Most drivers in the UK have experienced the anxiety when they first see the flashing lights of the police or an emergency vehicle in the rear-view mirror. The police car lights are especially unsettling if you are the object of their pursuit, have some form of contraband in your vehicle or have had one too many pints at the local pub. Hopefully, this is not the case, and you pull over, they pass by and you breathe a sigh of relief.
In areas of light traffic and on roads with wide shoulders, you simply pull over to the side of the road and avoid any obstruction with the emergency vehicle. But on a narrow two-lane road, a bridge or on a crowded freeway, pulling over is not so easy. So, what do you do when those lights come up behind you, and there is nowhere to go?
The first and most obvious step is to keep your wits about you and do not panic. Then you will need to assess the situation and act quickly. Do not, and I repeat do not, slow down. If you maintain your constant speed, the emergency vehicle may be able to pass you.
Join the Caravan and Practice Defensive Driving
If passing is not an option, you are now part of the emergency caravan. You will need to turn on your emergency flashers and safely increase your speed until the bridge ends or a passing opportunity presents itself. Then, you will need to slow down gradually and not get into a race with the hospital-bound vehicle with all the lights and sirens.
In 1964, Chris Imhof of the US National Safety Council developed the Driver Example Program that contained the principles of what is now called Defensive Driving. Two of the tenets of Defensive Driving are first, preparedness for all sorts of actions and reactions of other drivers and pedestrians and second, don’t expect other drivers to do what you would ordinarily do. In other words, assume every other driver on the road is crazy or drunk and act defensively to avoid a collision. This mindset will serve you well when the emergency vehicle flashing beacons approach requiring you to manoeuvre.
Keep the Signal Lights Working
There are other steps to avoid obstructing emergency vehicles. The first is to keep your car in good mechanical condition with regular maintenance and making sure that the lights, turn signals and emergency flashers are all working. The signal lights are your way of communicating with the cars behind you.
Remember that if the other driver is a defensive driver, you will need to prove your own soberness and sanity to him or her by using the signal lights in a way to convey your intentions. Do not be afraid to open the windows and use hand signals if there is any doubt.
Don’t be Distracted
While one cannot foresee an emergency, any driver should have a plan in mind that will constantly be changing depending on the weather, road conditions and traffic. Never be a distracted driver with texting, loud music or other activities that will take your mind off the serious job of driving. Before starting any drive, be sure to adjust the mirrors, seats, the tilt of the steering wheel and any other feature of your car that affects your driving. The goal here is to avoid obstructing any emergency vehicle and not end up as a passenger in one.