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When in doubt, pull right, says B.C. paramedics

Paramedics say they deal with drivers not obeying the rules daily

A few weeks ago, I was driving down Highway 15 in Cloverdale when I saw an ambulance quickly approaching on the other side of the road.

Most drivers pulled over to the curb on their right and stopped.

A motorcyclist, on the other hand, pulled over to the divider on the left and stopped.

I cannot remember if the ambulance had trouble getting through, but it got me thinking.

What exactly are we supposed to do?

I know the key is to get out of the way of emergency vehicles, but I often see drivers stop exactly where they are.

Instead of guessing the right answer, I asked the experts: B.C. Emergency Health Services paramedics Jasprit Khandal and Brian Twaites.

They both said drivers fail to pull over for emergency vehicles on a daily basis.

“People are almost caught like a deer in the headlights. They see an ambulance, they hear the horn and they don’t know what to do,” Khandal said. “So they just stopped where they are.”

“Now, that can be really dangerous for our paramedics.”


How a driver should respond depends on what type of road they are on, divided or undivided.

On an undivided road, when drivers see or hear an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens, Khandal said, drivers going both directions must pull over to the right and stop.

Drivers should always use signals to indicate to the emergency vehicle that they see them coming, never slam their breaks, pull over to the curb and once an emergency vehicle has passed, check to ensure others aren’t following behind.

This also applies to pedestrians and cyclists.

The one thing you should not do is stop in the middle of an intersection or turn in front of an emergency vehicle, Khandal added.

“If an emergency vehicle is approaching from behind, finish safely passing through the intersection, put your signal on and then pull over,” she said.

READ MORE: ‘Every minute counts’: B.C. drivers reminded to pull over for ambulances

On a divided road or one-way street, drivers can pull over to the closest curb, either the left or the right and stop. This helps create a clear centre lane for the emergency vehicle to drive through,

“But when you’re in doubt, the best thing is just to pull over to the right,” Khandal said.

Twaites wants to remind drivers always to be aware of their surroundings and drive with their mirrors.

“Scan your mirrors on a regular basis because you may see an ambulance or another emergency vehicle a few blocks behind you with its lights activated before you can hear the siren, which would give you a lot of time to move over.”

First responders only turn on lights and sirens when someone’s health and safety are at risk, said Twaites.

Every second counts.

But what does it mean when an ambulance suddenly turns them off?

It likely a good thing, Twaites said.

“That call that they were going to is either a not a higher priority call any longer and it’s been downgraded, or the vehicle that’s responding to that call has actually been cancelled,” he added.

-With files from Lauren Collins

Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I cover health care, non-profits and social issues-related topics for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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