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Motorists must yield to emergency vehicles

POSTED September 14, 2011 8:08 a.m.
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Fire, medical and police vehicles drive "Code Three" so often that too many motorists ignore the legal requirement to immediately "yield" to those vehicles. According to the California Vehicle Code, to "yield" specifically means that motorists are to pull over to the right, stop, and wait for the emergency traffic to proceed by - without delay. Apparently non-yielding offenders think that there is no real emergency, and thus there is not real reason to get out of the way, or they are ignorant of the law. Either way, neither of the aforementioned constitute acceptable excuses.

It is a fact that emergency vehicles make multiple code three runs every day. And that is because every day and every hour, life-threatening events occur in our city, whether it is a traffic collision with serious injuries, a drowning child, a burning building, a heart attack, stroke, or any number of other things that can instantly turn a person's routine day into a real-life nightmare. It has come to a point where emergency crews are experiencing substantial delays in their response times to life and death situations, and to make matters worse, disregarding motorists are creating a significant hazard to the public safety responders because of the unpredictable moves they make upon seeing a code three vehicle in operation. If motorists did as required by law, the emergency responders would know what to expect from all persons on the road and it would then be safer for all.

The increasing frequency of these emergency vehicle responses are merely a reflection of a growing population. Our roadways are ever more congested; the population of each city in this region has increased at a phenomenal rate, and in general, emergency crews find themselves responding to urgent requests for assistance around the clock with increased frequency.

The increased number of code three runs statistically raises the odds of collisions, but the situation is made worse by the problem of people being distracted by cell phone activity, DVD screens in their cars and, perhaps worst of all, the very loud stereo systems that can [illegally] generate racket that can be heard (and felt) hundreds of feet away. Newer cars in particular have improved sound-proofing and many gadgets within that impact motorists' ability to pay attention to what is going on with the traffic around them. Combined together, the aforementioned factors are imperiling the ability of public safety personnel to quickly respond to calls. In a heart attack situation, drowning case or serious bleeding emergency, just one or two minutes can be the difference between life and death, or irreversible brain damage.

The California vehicle code expressly requires all motorists to yield the right-of-way to all Code 3 vehicles - regardless of their direction of travel. They must pull to the right hand side of the road and stop until the emergency vehicle has passed. And in instances when conditions do not allow you to move to the right hand side of the roadway, you should stop where you are until the emergency vehicle(s) has gone by. Do not follow emergency vehicles once they have passed you, keep back at least several hundred feet.

It is advisable for motorists to look for more than the one emergency vehicle that may have drawn their attention in the first place, as it is generally the case that when there is one, there are likely to be more in close proximity. Also, keep in mind that police officers are aware of fire and ambulance dispatches. The officers regularly keep an eye on these emergency responses and issue citations when they observe motorists who fail to yield the right of way as required by law.

Remember that the next life-threatening emergency may be that of your own, or one of your loved ones. Surely, you would want all other motorists to make certain that their actions do not impede the response of and emergency crew responding to your emergency. Drive safe and yield to the emergency workers as they do their jobs.
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