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Here’s the proper way to react to a stopped emergency vehicle

Published March 26, 2013
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On a recent trip across the GTA to Niagara Falls, I drove along the 401, 403 and the QEW. Traffic was moving OK for a weekday but it did have its usual slow spots.

What is always disturbing is not only the noticeable lack of driving skill by many motorists but the lack of respect motorists have for emergency vehicles.

On the QEW, I was driving in the HOV lane when I saw in my mirror a police vehicle approaching from the rear with its emergency lights activated. I slowed and moved over to allow it to pass. However, when it caught up to the SUV in front of me, that driver either had no clue the police vehicle was trying to pass or they had no idea what to do. They simply stayed in front of the police vehicle for the next several minutes. Eventually the police vehicle got past the SUV.

I also encountered a number of stopped police vehicles on the shoulder with their emergency lights activated. Since I do the vast majority of my driving in the right lane (if I am not using the HOV lanes in heavy traffic), I did what was required of me by the Highway Traffic Act (HTA).

I slowed down and changed lanes when it was safe to do so.

More: A close call at a stop sign with a distracted driver

More: What not to do when making a left turn

Section 159 of the HTA states that when drivers encounter a stopped emergency vehicle with the emergency lights activated, they “shall slow down and proceed with caution”…. or “shall slow down and move into another lane if the movement can be made in safety” where there are two or more lanes in one direction, as is the case with the QEW and 400 series highways.

There is a very good reason why this law was introduced about 10 years ago.

Too many emergency workers were being struck by motorists or truckers on our roadways resulting in deaths and serious injuries. For this reason the MTO introduced this section of the HTA to try to keep these workers safe when responding to our needs.

It is a fact that your eyes tell your hands where to steer. In other words, you will steer to where you are looking. As in many sports, if you want to hit anything, like your golf ball, look at it. Hitting anything on our roads is never a good idea. Therefore, never gawk or stare at the incident at the side of the road. Always look to where you want to go.

I was disheartened by the alarming number of motorists who did not at least slow down when passing the stopped emergency vehicles. Of all the vehicles I saw passing the emergency vehicle, I was the only one to change lanes even though it was safe for the others to do so.

Slowing down and moving over when possible is not only the law, it is the responsible and respectful thing to do. It can save the lives of police, fire and EMS workers.

Failing to do so can result in a penalty of three demerit points and a fine of up to $480.

In the accompanying video above, watch as the camera car and the vehicle in front slow and change lanes when they encounter the stopped police vehicles. This is the correct, safe and legal way to pass these emergency vehicles when their emergency (red and blue) lights are activated.

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