To be honest, it’s a sad reflection on the standard of driving — in the USA or anywhere else — when, within three days, three separate law enforcement agencies feel obliged to ask for drivers not to kill their officers wherever patrol cars have stopped on the shoulder of the highway. (See the DSA “Road Safety in the News” page for July 8, 2004 — link on gray bar, above.)
Several American states have introduced legislation making specific demands of all drivers when they are approaching any emergency vehicle that is stopped on the shoulder or the roadside with its lights flashing, but whether there is legislation in your state or not, you should always be prepared to do the following:
- In plenty of time, do a correct and safe lane-change to move away from the emergency vehicle — check mirrors, let your left signal flash at least four times before starting the lane change, check the left-hand external mirror once more andcheck over your left shoulder, then if it’s safe move one lane to the left.
- If there isn’t the time or enough safe space to do a safe lane change, get your speed off promptly — check your mirrors, use your four-way hazard lights if you feel threatened from behind, and brake with the required, safe amount of firmness so that by the time you reach the emergency vehicle you have significantly cut your speed.
If you live in a drive-on-the-left country, such as Australia, India, New Zealand or the UK, then simply reverse the lefts and the rights mentioned above.
It is important that you think for the officer, the paramedic, the fire fighter, the confused crash survivor, or whoever else may be standing or moving around on the edge of the highway.
What they are doing can be very demanding and stressful. It could be you or your family that they are helping or protecting so give them the safety consideration they truly deserve, and don’t just assume they can devote 100% attention to your car coming down the road.
Remember that if a person (pedestrian or bicyclist) is struck by a car — your car — then if you are doing 20mph (32km/h) the person stands a good chance of surviving. If you are doing 30mph (48km/h), there is a strong probability that the person will die. And if you are doing 40mph (64km/h) the person’s chances of survival are almost nil. Please do remember this next time you have to pass close by an officer or any other person who is standing on the shoulder.