Lights & Sirens Decoded

Ever find yourself panicked, thinking, “what do I do?” in response to lights and sirens? Of course you have, driving is the one time we are all constantly violating the law! Hell, half the reason cops don’t enforce speed limits strictly is because WE can’t stand driving that slow either! But even goodie-goodies feel the pucker, when the rolling light show comes their way, because most of us don’t know what the officer wants.

Pull Over Dummy
Like you should have learned in drivers education, the default response to any emergency vehicle with active lights and sirens is to pull to the right side of the road and stop. They will either pull in behind you or pass. But, if you must know, there is a sime language to sirens.

Short = Pull Over
If a patrol car is directly behind your vehicle on a roadway, and he quickly sounds the siren once or twice, he’s pulling you over. This is the “wooo”, “whoop” or “whoop-whoop” sound. Ideally, you want to calmly make your way to the right lane, then pull into a parking lot or small side street, without any sudden braking or turning. Stopping in the right lane of traffic is acceptable, but discouraged. Pulling to the left is okay on the interstate if there’s a wide shoulder to get you completely out of traffic and it’s divided with a barrier wall.

Long = Get Outta My Way!!!
This is all a fire trucks and ambulances ever do, but if you hear a continuous wailing siren, possibly with additional blasts of an airhorn (HONK!), this is the driver yelling “get the hell out of my way!” In this case, find the nearest opening away from the emergency vehicle and pull to a stop. While pulling to the right is the default, use your brain. If he’s barreling up the center lane, and you’re on the left, pull to the left, not in front of him! If you can’t find an opening, to get out of the way, then pick up the pace a bit and keep driving forward until one opens.

Don’t Do Anything Stupid
If you can’t find a safe opening to move over, or you come to a red light, don’t force it! The last thing that officer wants is to be stopped on his way to a real emergency call to deal with your crash, especialy considering that he’ll probably get punished for it! That said, if you’ve got an emergency vehicle right behind you with his siren wailing, and you can get out of his way safely with a minor traffic violation, that’s what they want you to do.

If You’re Acting Reasonably You’re Covered
As long as your not blowing straight through intersections at red lights or otherwise driving like a crazy person, no officer worth his weight in spit will cite or arrest you, and certanly no jury will convict you of any wrongdoing, even if you technically violate the law. Why? Because you were trying to do what you thought the emergency vehicle driver wanted you to do, and we all go “Oh crap! What should I do?” When the lights and siren are nearby.

Have you ever had a bad encounter with  an emergency vehicle (aside from just getting pulled over of course)? What went wrong? What do you wish they had done differently?


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