The right way to get out of the way

Friday, May 27, 2016by  Derek Wing

There are a number of easy ways to remember certain rules in life – some of them even rhyme. For instance, when it comes to home improvement projects, “measure twice, cut once” and “righty tighty, lefty loosey” are helpful. For those who drink (or mix) alcoholic beverages, there’s one that goes, “beer before liquor, never sicker.” 

However, there’s another saying that isn’t as widely known but is equally, if not more important than all of the ones above: “Move to the right for sirens and lights.” This is about getting out of the way of emergency vehicles when sirens are blaring and lights are flashing behind you. Every year, there are an estimated 16,000 crashes involving fire department emergency vehicles while responding to or returning from incidents. (And that doesn't include other types of emergency vehicles!)

Many Northwest drivers make the honest (or panicked) mistake of thinking the best way to make room for fire engines, police cars and ambulances is to move to the side of the road they're closest to, which in some cases is on their left. But the law states that when an emergency vehicle is approaching from behind, drivers are actually supposed to move to the right and stop if it’s safe to do so. The spirit and purpose of this law is to help speed up the flow of first responders heading to emergency scenes, and to have everyone move out of the way in the same direction, so those first responders can pass on the left (another generally accepted rule of the road) as quickly and safely as possible.

It makes total sense to have everyone moving in the same direction so emergency vehicles have room to pass on the left, but in the heat of the moment not everyone thinks along these lines. Some drivers' main objective is just to get out of the way ASAP. However, that results in some moving to the left and others moving to the right. And while parting the road down the middle is better than not moving at all (yes, I’m looking at you, East Coast), it may slow down first responders and force them to try and figure out where the road opening will be. In an emergency, seconds matter, and you don’t want to cause delays when someone’s life may hang in the balance.

So the next time you’re behind the wheel and see an emergency vehicle coming up behind you, calmly move to the right as quickly as possible. (See more common do's and don'ts here.)

Not only is it the correct way to clear space, there’s also an easy way to remember it.

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