Tag Archives: emergency

Slowing or stopping for an emergency vehicle?

The in basket: Bea Bull writes, “I was recently driving south on Highway 3 past the on-ramp from Bangor. An ambulance was coming down the on-ramp with its lights flashing and siren going.

“I was quite some distance ahead and in the center lane, so stayed put until I could determine which lane the ambulance would want. When (it) went to the far left lane, I pulled to the far right lane and slowed down.

“I, and the majority of the other cars, pulled to the right lane and proceeded to drive slowly. However, three cars pulled off onto the shoulder and stopped.

“After the ambulance passed, the cars that had pulled to the shoulder and stopped couldn’t safely get back into traffic because 1) all us slow-movers were passing them and 2) behind us were cars traveling at full highway speed because they hadn’t encountered the ambulance.

“So, here’s the question…  When driving on a freeway or large divided highway where there are at least three lanes, do you move to the right lane and slow down?  Or pull off and stop?”

The out basket: Trooper Russell Winger, public information officer for the local State Patrol office, says, “RCW 46.61.210  requires motorists, upon immediate approach of an emergency vehicle, to … immediately move  to the right edge or curb of the roadway, parallel to the road and clear of any intersection and SHALL STOP and remain there until the emergency vehicle has passed.

“On multi-lane roadways, motorists should begin to safely slow and move to the far right as soon as they are aware of the approaching emergency vehicle. In reality, during times of  heavy traffic, not all vehicles will be able to make it to the shoulder to stop before the emergency vehicle passes. All motorists should be at least in the active process of slowing and moving safely to the shoulder and stopping.

“…Motorists(should) be aware that emergency vehicles often  respond to calls with multiple units. These vehicles are not always traveling closely together and motorists should not immediately upon pass of the emergency vehicle start filling in the lanes behind the passing vehicle. There could be two to three more emergency vehicles that still need to pass.

“Take your time,” he said. “No driver needs to be in that much of a hurry.

“Knowing the law, having good situational awareness and using … common sense will help keep everyone on the roadway safe in these situations,” Russell concluded..

What happens to old sand bags?

The in basket: I was watching a network newscast a while back in which the victim of flooding somewhere was musing about the cleanup that would follow, including removal of all the sand bags.

It had never occurred to me before to wonder what happens to all the stacked sandbags when the flood waters recede. The alarmist weather forecasts we’re hearing about the coming La Nina winter and our current forecast suggest it may be more than an academic issue for some local residents soon.

The out basket: Sand bags appear to be of three varieties. Those public works and highway departments put down, those residents buy at stores and fill themselves and, in the most serious events, those provided to the public by emergency management departments, often with supplies of sand identified.

Residents who acquire sand bags in either of the final two ways are responsible for what happens to them when the floodwaters recede, says Susan May of the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management. DEMA will refer flood victims to a hardware store for sandbags in most cases, she said.

The sand can be put to other uses later if the bags can be kept from decaying, by covering them, for example. Most homeowners wouldn’t want them as a permanent part of their landscaping, I wouldn’t think.

Callene Abernathy of Kitsap County Public Works says the county cleans up all sandbags it deploys when they are no longer needed. The sand is taken to the road sheds for use in ice and snow control if it hasn’t been too badly contaminated, which it usually becomes in a week or two. After that, they are disposed of as garbage, she said.

State ‘Move Over’ law to get tougher


The in basket: Linda Wilson sent along an e-mail she recently received that contends that California has just passed a “Move Over” law that can bring a $754 ticket for not moving to the left to give room to police or other emergency vehicles on the roadside with their flashing lights working.

If you can’t move left, you have to slow to 20 miles per hour, the e-mail said. It claims that “a friend’s son” got such a ticket recently.

He slowed down to pass two patrol cars on the shoulder “but did not move into the other lane,” went the story. “The second police car immediately pulled him over and gave him a ticket.”

The infraction supposedly counts three points against your  driving record and requires a mandatory court appearance, it said.

Finally, it listed a Web site that supposedly confirmed it all as true. That is www.moveoveramerica.com.

The out basket: It is not a true story, and makes the urban legend Web sites as a hoax.

But it’s a timely one for those of us in Washington state, which also has a Move Over law. The Legislature has just upped the ante substantially for not making an effort to give emergency vehicles on the shoulder a wide berth. In some circumstances, the penalty could be a lot more than $754.

First, about the e-mail. California has had a Move Over law since 2007, and this year just added state highway department vehicles to those that require other drivers to move over or slow down when they see the emergency lights in use. 

The fine is $50 or less. Though local add-ons can increase that, it wouldn’t come to anything near $754. 

The California law merely requires a reasonable speed for conditions. The one in Texas may include the 20 mph requirement to stay in the closest lane to the emergency.

The site www.moveoveramerica.com merely confirms the existence of Move Over laws in most states, not the spurious claims about California.

As for the changes in Washington state, which become effective next Jan. 1, they specify that the emergency zone where the law is effective is within 200 feet on either side of a stationery emergency vehicle on the shoulder with lights flashing. That wasn’t defined in the original law.

There is no 20 mph requirement, but it doubles the fine for exceeding the speed limit past such a vehicle in any lane. My state patrol contact, Trooper Krista Hedstrom, isn’t sure what the fine or fines to be doubled will be. It probably will vary with how far over the speed limit the driver is traveling.

But if the driver is found to actually endanger emergency personnel on the roadside, it can be cited as the gross misdemeanor of reckless endangerment, with the potential for a year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine, plus a 60-day license suspension. Even without hiring a lawyer to fight it, such a citation could cost into the thousands.

“The bill also requires the state (within existing resources) to do education regarding the new law in the 90 days after the bill becomes effective,”  Krista said.  

“WSP Government and Media Relations will be working the next few months on a plan to get this message out come January, which will probably include some sort of statewide press event and a media plan.”

Have you heard of the “Move Over Law?”


The in basket: The in basket: Beverly Hanson of Bremerton wrote to say, “When I recently was visiting Florida, I was made aware of the Move-Over Law enacted there, meaning that when there is police or emergency car pulled over to the side, you must, if at all possible, move into another lane even if that emergency vehicle is not in a lane. 

“They have a large fine for not complying and reflects points which can make your insurance increase as well. 

“Lately,” Beverly said, “I have been reading that the Move Over Law is in place in most states.  Washington State was not listed as being one that doesn’t have the law, so am I to assume it is in place. 

“If so, there sure isn’t any notice about it.  We all know to slow down, but getting into another lane is not in our consciousness at this time.”

The out basket. Well, allow me to make it a little more well known. This state has had the same law, also called the Move Over Law, in force since 2005. 

State Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton detachment says, “Last year, troopers statewide stopped 997 cars for this violation, (of which) 245 received $124 infractions. 

“I know the Seattle-based media (KING5, KOMO4, KIRO7, Q13) have all covered this issue numerous times. There was also a large campaign done throughout Kitsap County when this law became effective in 2005.  The (state traffic safety commission) printed up brochures containing information on the law, which are still handed out at public safety events.

“And still,” she said, “I see drivers violating this law on a regular basis.  Usually when this violation occurs, the trooper is already on a traffic stop and cannot drop what they are doing to chase after the driver who failed to move over.  Troopers will continue to stop drivers for this violation.”

The law also protects tow trucks, fire engines, ambulances and highways crews working on emergency repairs, when they have their emergency lights flashing. A police officer is less likely to be tied down on another detail and able to come after you in those cases.

“We plan to do an emphasis soon focusing on this violation, ” Krista  said. 
“It is so common – we hear about police vehicles and WSDOT vehicles getting rear ended all the time.

You don’t have to move over it isn’t safe to do so (as when another car is in the next lane), the law says, but you must slow down if you can’t move over.

Catch-22 in old bridge’s HOV lane

 The in basket: Ken Luzbetak of Bremerton said in an e-mail, “The other night I saw a Washington State Patrol running with lights and sirens across the old Tacoma Narrows bridge toward Gig Harbor in the HOV lane. There was a car ahead of him. I couldn’t see how it turned out, but should the driver ahead of him changed lanes on the bridge (despite it’s being prohibited) or fail to yield (against the law) and make the WSP change lanes?”

The out basket: A driver in the HOV lane on the old bridge should proceed until he or she is past the grates that separate the lanes and then pull over for the officer, says Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton detachment. 

“The troopers that work in the Gig Harbor detachments will usually shut off lights and sirens as they cross the bridge for (this) very reason,” she said.  “However, there may be times that a trooper will continue with lights and sirens across the old bridge. The recommendation – wait until you are safely across the bridge, then move out of the way.”

The difference in traction between the grates and the pavement is the main reason lane changes are forbidden on the old bridge.



What about an emergency vehicle across a barrier?


The in basket: Bob Miller, who says he holds a commercial drivers license and takes “extreme pride in being as safe as possible” has a question about approaching emergency vehicles.

“I know that you are to pull over to a safe place at first opportunity if

a vehicle is approaching you from either direction in order to give it

plenty of room,” he said.

“Logically, I can’t imagine this same rule applies if the vehicle is in

the oncoming lanes on a divided highway with a barrier, but what about a

4-lane road such as SR 303 north of Fairgrounds Road?

Obviously if the emergency vehicle is coming from behind you, you get

out of the way as quickly and safely as possible, but what about if it’s

in one of the oncoming lanes?”

The out basket: If there is a physical barrier between you and the emergency vehicle that would prevent it from crossing into your lane to proceed around traffic, you are not required to slow or stop. Otherwise, including when there is a two-way left turn lane between you, you must.

In real life, I find that an emergency vehicle coming toward me often is passed me before I manage to get stopped on the shoulder, but I always slow down and make the effort.

Emergency vehicles can’t change red lights at new interchange


The in basket: Don Cocks wrote on July 16 to ask, “How come there are no emergency vehicle traffic light overrides on the Silverdale 303 interchange or at least they are not working yesterday?  

“I was coming from southbound 3 waiting to turn left on Highway 303 to go to East

Bremerton,” he said. “There were six cars waiting, three in each lane when an

ambulance comes racing up lights and siren going, (and) the driver starts laying

on the horn.  

“Just what are we supposed to do, pull out into on-coming traffic? The two cars in the front pulled up and were almost side-swiped by traffic going into Silverdale.”  

The out basket: Emergency vehicles haven’t been able to preempt that signal or the others at that interchange for the past year and a half, says Jim Johnstone of the Olympic Region signal shop for state highways. The reason is the length of time it takes vehicles on 303 to cross through.

 “We have turned off the pre-emption because of the way the signal terminates during a pre-empt event,” he said. “If a vehicle has started into the intersection, especially in the westbound direction, and an emergency vehicle pre-empts the ramp, the green will come up for the emergency vehicle before the traffic has cleared the bridge. 

“This caused several near misses between emergency vehicles and citizens. 

“With our Traconex controllers there is no way to prevent this from happening,” he said, “other than to turn pre-emption off.  Emergency services in the area were notified that the pre-emption was turned off.

 “As far as what the driver should do? I guess the best thing would be to sit still and allow the emergency vehicle to pass, or get out of the way as best as possible. I don’t believe I would pull up into the intersection on a red light.”

Jay Lovato, assistant chief of Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and Chief Dan Smith of North Kitsap Fire and Rescue agreed that their drivers probably would use the right turn lane to make a left turn when both lanes for left turns have cars in them, and the lights are red.

It’s not uncommon for them to use the center turn lane or even an oncoming lane when no traffic is coming in lights-and-siren situations, Jay said.