​Do You Know the Right Way to Get Out of the Way?

Northwest drivers are confident they know how to yield to emergency vehicles



Seemingly out of nowhere, flashing lights and wailing sirens appear behind you. Or, you're about to pass an emergency vehicle pulled over on the side of the road. Without thinking too much about it, do you know what to do? According to the latest poll from PEMCO Insurance, most Northwest drivers are confident they do, while others admit to simply relying on their best judgement for getting out of the way. Regardless, getting it wrong could spell trouble for even the most well-meaning drivers.

The PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll finds that about nine out of 10 drivers in Washington and Oregon (87 percent) say they're extremely or very confident that they know the legally correct action to take when seeing emergency lights drive up behind them. And most got it right: About three-quarters (74 percent) say they slow down and move over to the right when an emergency vehicle approaches.

Fewer drivers share that same confidence when it comes to passing a traffic stop. Still, a majority (78 percent) have a high level of certainty that they know the correct procedure when they see an emergency vehicle with flashing lights pulled over on the road ahead – a situation that typically requires drivers to slow down and move left.

"While most Northwest drivers feel confident they know what to do around emergency vehicles, some may be surprised to know they can be pulled over for failing to make the proper move," said PEMCO Spokesperson Derek Wing. "And the penalties for these violations can carry some hefty fines, too."

The laws in Washington and Oregon require drivers to stay alert when ambulances, police cars, or other emergency vehicles appear in their rearview mirrors:

  • In both states, when an emergency vehicle approaches using its lights and sirens, drivers must yield the right-of-way and move as close to the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway as possible.
  • In Washington, the penalty for violating this law is typically $1,062, and Oregon enforces a fine of anywhere from $130 to $1,000.

When approaching an emergency vehicle off to the right side of the road, both states require drivers to slow down, and, if on a road with another open lane, move away from the right-hand side.

  • In Washington, failure to slow down or maintain a safe distance can cost you up to $764, while Oregon residents can be fined up to $1,000.

"When drivers spot an emergency vehicle's lights flashing around them, it's important to know the law and keep everyone's safety in mind. Depending on the situation, it could be more complicated than just moving to the right or left," Wing said. "Taking time to slow down and give first responders plenty of space could make a big difference in an emergency." ​

For a complete summary of PEMCO's poll results, visit www.pemco.com/poll, where you'll find the responses collected by FBK Research of Seattle in May 2017.