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Sharing the road with emergency vehicles

An ambulance driving with blue lights flashing.

All drivers know they should give way when they hear or see flashing lights approaching them. Whether these lights are on a fire engine, ambulance or police car, a fast response from drivers helps the emergency vehicle get to the incident as quickly as possible.

But it's not always the best idea to pull over exactly where you are. In fact, if you stop in the wrong place and you could end up with a hefty fine – which could seem unfair when all you're trying to do is help.

This guide will keep you on the right side of the law when dealing with emergency vehicles.

How not to react

It's not always safe (or legal) to pull over the moment we spot an emergency vehicle approaching. As an article in the Express explains, if you run a red light or enter a bus lane when moving out of the way for an ambulance or police car, you could get fined.

The maximum fine you can get for running a red light is £1,000 plus six penalty points. But it's more likely you'll receive a £60 on-the-spot fine and three points.

Entering a bus lane could see you paying a £90 fine, or £45 if you pay it within two weeks.

What the Highway Code says

The Highway Code states drivers must 'look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police, doctors or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights and sirens or flashing headlights, or Highways Agency Traffic Officers and Incident Support vehicles using flashing amber lights.'

It shares an important piece of advice: 'do not panic.' In the heat of the moment, some drivers slam on their brakes the second they hear or see flashing lights, but all that's doing is creating another obstacle for the emergency vehicles to navigate around.

If you need to pull over, the Highway Code says you should 'consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass', while abiding by all traffic signs.

You should pull over to the side of the road if necessary, but try to avoid stopping before the brow of a hill, on a bend or a narrow part of the road. Also avoid mounting the kerb or braking harshly as you approach a junction or roundabout, or making a move that may endanger you, your passengers or other road users.

The best thing to do

When you hear or see an emergency vehicle (whichever comes first), one of the first things to do is check your mirrors to gauge their speed and see what the traffic behind you is doing – this will give you a good indication of where the vehicle is heading.

Doing this should give you plenty of time to pull up next to the kerb to let them pass safely. If it's not safe (or legal) to pull to the side, continue driving at the same speed until you find a suitable spot. You might want to switch on your left indicator to make the driver of the emergency vehicle aware you've noticed them.

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