Motorists must give way in emergency, say frustrated ambos

SAFETY MESSAGE: Ambulance officer Kevin Crossingham believes drivers need to be better educated about how to make way for emergency vehicles.
SAFETY MESSAGE: Ambulance officer Kevin Crossingham believes drivers need to be better educated about how to make way for emergency vehicles. David Nielsen

WHEN you hear sirens and see flashing lights in your rear-view mirror, it can only mean two things: either you're in trouble or someone else is.

Either way, emergency service officers urge drivers not to panic when they see blue and red lights approaching.

It could be their lives that are put at risk.

Ipswich ambulance officer Kevin Crossingham said many motorists did not know how to react around emergency vehicles.

Mr Crossingham, who has been with the Queensland Ambulance Service for 22 years, said motorists often failed to properly give way.

"Drivers have a tendency to panic when they hear the sirens and see the lights," he said.

"They will sometimes slow down, or speed up and try to out-run the vehicle or even stop immediately in front of you."

He said the correct procedure was to slow down and move the vehicle to the left when it was safe to do so, or stay left to give the ambulance a clear run down the middle of the road.

"We don't want drivers creating a dangerous situation, though, by moving suddenly or making an illegal manoeuvre.

"Our officers are well-trained and understand that it may take a driver a few moments to move out of the way, so we adjust to that."

Mr Crossingham said another problem was when motorists tailgated ambulances on emergency runs.

"It's reckless behaviour," Mr Crossingham said.

"Drivers stuck in peak-hour traffic will drive within a metre of the emergency vehicle just to get through the traffic.

"It is a huge risk, especially considering the ambulance could stop suddenly."

Queensland Fire and Rescue Service acting area commander Peter Yarrow said firies encountered the same problems.

Mr Yarrow, based at Ripley fire station, said motorists were often unaware of approaching emergency service vehicles.

"People have problems hearing sirens because cars are more soundproofed than ever," he said.

"And if they have the air-conditioning on or the stereo blasting, it makes drivers even more oblivious to emergency vehicles.

"When we appear suddenly behind them, they can get panicked into trying to get out of the way too quickly."

Mr Yarrow said drivers also got flustered when trying to make clear passage at a red-light intersection.

According to Queensland road rules, motorists "may drive onto the wrong side of the road or drive through a red traffic light to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle if it is safe to do so".

But Mr Yarrow advised against it.

He said if a driver ran a red light to try to make clear passage for an emergency vehicle and had an accident as a result, the driver could still be held accountable.

With higher volumes of people on roads, Mr Yarrow said it was vital all motorists were aware of the road rules concerning emergency vehicles.

"Under the Road Users Act, firies are not allowed to exceed speed limits so we rely on motorists to give way," he said.

Topics:  editors picks queensland ambulance service road rules

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