May 7, 2007
The law allows emergency response vehicles the right of way when responding to emergency calls, but depending on the situation, that may not always be the case.
“When you realize you have an emergency vehicle approaching, the important thing to do is to yield to the right of way, whether that's to de-accelerate and pull to the closest road edge to let it pass, or if you see it approaching from the other direction to slow down and yield to it to allow it to make whatever moves are necessary,” said Assistant Chief of Operations Bob Brown with the Albemarle County Fire and Rescue Squad.
Albemarle County Police Lieutenant John Teixeira said, “Civilians and citizens in private vehicles are supposed to pull to the right and clear the lane so emergency vehicles can get from point A to point B.”
Sometimes that doesn't happen, which can lead to accidents like one on Friday in which a county fire truck collided with a vehicle.
“The law allows emergency vehicles the right of way, any time they're displaying the emergency lights and the audible warning," said Brown. "However, we are still subject to operating with the regard of life and property, to be prudent drivers, so we have to allow the motorist time to see us and react and we have to anticipate those reactions."
According to police, the right of way law doesn't mean that emergency drivers are automatically off the hook if they cause an accident.
“We teach our officers that yes, you should use your lights and sirens on emergencies, however you still have to obey the rules of the road,” said Teixeira.
Everyone that operates an emergency vehicle in Virginia has been trained as a licensed emergency operator. That training program involves a number of training hours in laws, safety practices and practical exercise, which includes accident avoidance techniques.