How To Deal With Emergency Service Vehicles

Last Updated: 10/05/2022

The emergency services play a vital role in society and will commonly be seen on the roads rushing to call-outs, however, for a new or inexperienced driver, it can be a little scary when you encounter an emergency vehicle which is travelling at high speed.

The most common emergency service vehicles will indicate that they’re on an emergency call-out by sounding their sirens – a high-pitch wailing noise – and flashing blue lights.

Initially, you will think of the three main types of emergency service vehicles.

These are; police, fire service (fire engines) and the ambulance service (including paramedic cars).

Beyond that, there are actually many other types of emergency vehicles that may pass you on the road.

While blue may still be the primary colour of lights, you may also see green, white, yellow and amber.

The other emergency service vehicles that you may see include:

  • Coastguard 
  • Mountain Rescue
  • National Blood Service
  • Bomb Disposal Vehicles
  • Life Boat Launching Vehicles (RNLI)
  • Human Tissue Transport Vehicles

Depending on where you are located, and if you travel abroad, you may see certain other vehicles such as mine rescue service.

Regardless of what type of emergency services vehicle that you encounter, your action should always be the same.

You should essentially be looking for a way to allow the vehicle to pass as quickly and safely as possible and without endangering yourself or any other road users.

Contrary to popular belief, you should never break the laws of the road when moving for an emergency vehicle.

For an inexperienced or learner driver, dealing with an emergency services vehicle can be a daunting prospect.

Arming yourself with the knowledge of what you should do in these situations is important if you want to be able to handle them efficiently.

What You Will Learn

The internet is full of bad advice, as are older and more experienced drivers who have picked up bad habits or passed on false information.

In order to know exactly how you should deal with emergency vehicles, we have put together this guide which will hopefully give you all of the guidance you need.

Our guide is structured in the usual way and so consists of each of the following sections.

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

For our step-by-step guide, we have imagined a scenario in which you are out driving and encounter an emergency vehicle.

The vehicle is on its way to an incident, with blue lights flashing and sirens wailing.

In these scenarios, follow these steps to ensure you deal with the situation in a safe, legal and efficient manner.

  • Look and listen. The first time that you are aware of the presence of an emergency vehicle may be because you hear the sirens or see the blue lights flashing in the distance. Take the time to look and listen to make sure you know which direction it is coming from and how many vehicles there are.
  • Try to think about which route through traffic would be easiest for the emergency vehicle and leave that route clear.
  • Use your signals (indicators) to advise other motorists, and the emergency vehicle drivers, where you are intending to go.
  • Pull in safely. Just because an emergency vehicle is on the way it doesn’t mean that all road users are aware of it, or indeed taking action. So, make sure you look around and check mirrors and blind spots before pulling in. You’re looking for pedestrians, cyclists and other road users.
  • Pull in as far from the road as possible. Some drivers make the mistake of only partly pulling over and end up causing an even bigger obstruction. Make sure you pull in off the road completely so that you leave as clear a passage as possible.
  • Ensure the gap you leave is big enough for the emergency vehicle to fit through. If you have not yet seen the vehicle, keep in mind that it could be a car, such as a police car or paramedic, or it could be a much larger fire engine or ambulance.
  • Allow the emergency vehicle to pass.
  • Stay alert. At step one you looked and listened – now is the time to do that again before pulling away. There may be multiple vehicles which you have to be ready to let past as well. Pulling out immediately into the road could impede any additional vehicles, or worst still, cause an accident.
  • Calmly pull away when it’s clear to do so. Make sure you check your mirrors and blind spots once again. Some drivers stupidly try to re-join the road immediately after an emergency vehicle has passed to try and sneak their way further up through the traffic. Beware of vehicles doing this.

Video Demonstration

Hints & Tips

Often, emergency service vehicles will come along at the busiest moment possible.

You will find yourself in the middle of a junction or a road and it can be easy to panic and do the wrong thing.

With that in mind, here are a few more hints and tips.

Do Not Block Junctions:

Be aware of the position of your own car.

Are you blocking a turn or a junction?

If so, you may need to pull over further or move your car off the junction so that the emergency vehicles can safely pass.

Be Prepared To Go Out Of Your Way:

Depending on the position you find yourself in, it may be necessary for you to get out of the way by turning down a street you did not intend to drive down.

This may be necessary, and there’s not a lot you can do about it.

You should always be prepared to sacrifice time on your journey for things like this.

Emergency Services Drivers Are Trained:

At the end of the day, while you should make every attempt to move out of the way for an emergency service vehicle, you should also not underestimate the drivers of the vehicles themselves.

They are specially trained at great lengths on how to drive through traffic in emergency situations, so sometimes it may even be a benefit for you to do nothing other than stop.

Let them manage the situation by driving through the stationery traffic as they have been trained to do.

Useful Information

Some drivers believe that moving out of the way for an emergency vehicle entitles them to break the law.

By this, we mean simply moving into a bus lane, running a red light or perhaps momentarily breaking the speed limit to get to a safe place for the vehicle to pass by.

However, regardless as to whether an emergency vehicle is present, if you break the law you are still breaking the law and will be liable to prosecution.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with emergency service vehicles can be stressful for any driver, so if you’re inexperienced behind the wheel or are still learning, it’s only natural that you should be apprehensive.

At the end of the day, it’s important that you stay calm – doing this will allow you to think clearly and make the right decisions.

If all else fails, simply stop and allow the emergency vehicle to pass you.

Further Resources