What you should do in the event of an emergency vehicle passing

british ambulance driving on a country road

Posted by Holly West-Robinson on 27 September 2017

Looking in your rear-view mirror and seeing the flash of blue lights and hearing sirens in the far distance is something we all would have encountered at one point since passing our test. Most of the time it’s easy enough to pull over and let them squeeze past, but occasionally it can catch you off guard and send you into a bit of a panic if you aren’t expecting it.

The best course of action you can possibly take when letting an emergency vehicle pass, is stay calm. Frantic last minute decisions can result in scenarios where you end up pulling into a bus lane or take a wrong turn up a one way street. The next thing you know you’ve been slapped with a fine or penalty, simply for trying to move out the way so the public services can get on with their jobs and save some lives. It’s a frustrating situation many have been in – so here’s some advice from us!

Plan ahead and pay attention to road signs

If you’re driving in quite a built up area or city such as London, there are sign posts everywhere that tell you which lanes are for cars, bikes, cabs, and buses. If you see an emergency vehicle coming up behind you – establish which lanes you are free to move into without causing disruption to these or other motorists. DO NOT – run red lights, or try and outrun the emergency vehicle, only pull over if it is safe to do so.

If you are unable to move from your lane, sometimes the best thing you can do is stay put where you are, or continue at a reasonable speed and let the emergency vehicle manoeuvre around you that way. Police and ambulance drivers are trained to be quick thinkers and most of the time can weave in and out of traffic themselves. 

Never pull over into the hard shoulder

The hard shoulder is designed specifically for vehicles which have broken down or need assistance. On smart motorways, it is sometimes used as an extra lane to prevent traffic congestion. This is why you should never use the hard shoulder unless you absolutely have to - as emergency vehicles will sometimes use this lane if the others are slow moving. Keep it clear and be sure to pull over to the inside lane and wait for the vehicle to pass that way. Ignoring this rule could still leave you liable for any offences committed which violate the Highway Code.

Sticking to the Highway Code

Under section 219 of the Highway Code states for Emergency and Incident Support vehicles:-

“You should 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 Officer and Incident Support vehicles using flashing amber lights.

When one approaches do not panic. Consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs. If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but try to avoid stopping before the brow of a hill, a bend or narrow section of road. Do not endanger yourself, other road users or pedestrians and avoid mounting the kerb. Do not brake harshly on approach to a junction or roundabout, as a following vehicle may not have the same view as you.”

We hope you found this advice useful! Remember – if you see or hear an emergency vehicle approaching, be it on a motorway, busy city, even rural countryside - stay calm, assess your surroundings and don’t make any hasty or unsafe decisions. You don’t want the ambulance stopping to pick you up before they even get to their first casualty! Drive safe :)

About the Author

Holly West-Robinson
Holly West-Robinson

Hi I'm Holly and I'm a young driver based in Peterborough! I love tattoos, food, drawing and anything art related, enjoy hanging out with friends and family and making a fool of myself XD I'm a huge lover of music and also a part time DJ in the underground drum and bass scene. I passed my driving test first time when I was 17 years old have been loving life and my new found freedom ever since! I'm definitely one of the adventurous types who's always up for a good old road trip!