Tag Archives: emergency vehicle

Gore is OK for yielding to emergency vehicles

The in basket: Norm Jochem, a neighbor of mine, said he was coming coming south on Highway 3 at the Bremerton sewer plant where Highway 304 merges when a police car with its lights flashing but no siren approached him from behind. He was in that stretch where Highway 3 narrows to a single lane, and he had nowhere to go except into the gore area on his right. So that’s where he went and the police car continued on past him.

He wondered if he chose the correct one of two normally illegal things, driving into the gore or staying in the police car’s way.

I asked Trooper Russ Winger of the State Patrol here and also whether it mattered if the driver had continued in motion while the cop passed, rather than coming to a stop?

The out basket: “It is appropriate to yield to the right for an emergency vehicle even if he had to enter the gore area,” Russ replied. “The law says move to shoulder and stop but we know this doesn’t always occur. The objective is to allow the emergency to quickly and safely pass. If vehicles cannot come to a full stop, we do not worry about that as long as the driver has recognized the need to yield and is making the movement.

‘Yellow trap’ and oncoming emergency vehicles

The in basket: Rob Shafer of Yukon Harbor in South Kitsap writes, “The other day I was traveling west on Mile Hill Drive approaching Woods Road when an ambulance approached from the other direction.

“It appeared that all of the through traffic lights had been triggered to red as cars were stopped in both directions and my light was red. However, the left turn arrow on Mile Hill was still flashing yellow where an inattentive driver could make a turn directly in front of the emergency vehicle.

“Is there some fault with the emergency system where it does not turn all lights red on the approach of the emergency vehicle? This is not the first time I have seen this,” he said.

The out basket: Jeff Shea, traffic engineer in Kitsap County Pubic Works,

says the signal was working as intended and explains what Rob has seen.

“Emergency vehicle drivers are trained to watch out for motorists that make illegal movements, such as turning in front of an oncoming vehicle on a flashing yellow arrow,” Jeff said.  “We held several discussions with emergency vehicle operators to go over this situation and make them aware of what the signal configuration will (be).

“When a signal is ‘preempted’ for an emergency vehicle the whole intersection does not go red.  The direction the vehicle is traveling will go green while the side and opposing traffic will get red indications, except for the flashing yellow arrow in the opposing direction.

“The reason the flashing yellow arrow continues to flash is to avoid what is called the ‘yellow trap.’  The yellow trap occurs when a left turning vehicle with a green ball or yellow flashing arrow gets a steady yellow ball and assumes that oncoming traffic is also getting the yellow ball and turns in front of that vehicle assuming that it is coming to stop for the upcoming red light.  This condition caused so many collisions that the federal guidance manual, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, specifically restricts agencies from configuring signal systems to allow this.

“Therefore, we continue the flashing yellow arrow, and hope that motorists obey both the legal requirements not turn in front of traffic, or an emergency vehicle with its lights and sirens on.

“There is another option which requires us to terminate all the movements that are going at the time of preemption.  In this situation, also, the MUTCD is very clear that we cannot shorten any of the clearance times – the yellow and red times.

“So, by the time all those clearance times are complete and the green ball comes back up for the preempted direction the emergency vehicle may already be at or beyond the intersection making the preemption.  We felt this was not a good option.”



How much to slow down if you can’t ‘move over’ is still uncertain

The in basket: Leroy McVay, a regular Road Warrior reader in Poulsbo, writes, in what seems like a primitive form of text messaging, “Recently got an e-mail from a friend in OK. that her friend got a megabucks ticket for not slowing down enough in a ‘move over’ situation with police and aid units.  Was end of September, saw several LARGE black & white signs along the highway reminding people to ‘move over.’
“The best info I’ve seen on this law came from your column in the Sun,” Leroy said. “I still haven’t heard how much we’re expected to slow down if we can’t move over.  5 mph?  15 mph?  Perhaps you can get the answer to my question and save someone a BIG ticket.”

The out basket: It remains a “know it when they see it” situation for the police. Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the State Patrol detachment here refers us to one of her agency’s online “Good to Know” advisories on the subject, but it’s only 48 seconds long and spends most of its advice on the ‘Move Over” part of the law, not the ‘slow down’ part. You can see it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9L8YIyt90U.

I’d say that even if you do move over, you won’t want to be traveling over the speed limit as you pass the emergency. And a ticket is more likely if there were no vehicles in the next lane to keep you from moving over and you don’t.

Krista says, “You can usually tell when someone slows down or has room to move over.  Most drivers are getting pretty good at slowing down and moving over.”

It won’t do you or me any good in court if we are cited for this, but I would argue that since the law applies to just 200 feet before and after the emergency vehicle, which doesn’t give you a lot of time to react at highway speeds, getting down to 10 mph under the speed limit would be a nice compromise between not endangering those on the shoulder and not creating a whole new emergency behind you.

Certainly, using your brakes to slow rather than just taking your foot off the gas would show an officer traveling behind you that you made an effort.

I’d also take that e-mail about the megabucks ticket with a grain of salt. This new law in several states has produced a few urban legend type misrepresentations.