The tragic death of a not quite two-year-old child on the Georgia 10 Loop has spurred a considerable amount of discussion locally concerning what a driver should do when approached by an emergency vehicle operating in emergency mode.
Georgia law addresses this issue in 40-6-74 O.C.G.A. stating:
“(a) Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle or a vehicle belonging to a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency making use of an audible signal and visual signals meeting the requirements of Code Section 40-6-6, the driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right of way and shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection and shall stop and remain in such position until the authorized emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle has passed, except when otherwise directed by a police officer.
(b) This Code section shall not operate to relieve the driver of any authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway.”
At the time that I write this, the wreck is still under review; so, I will not get into specifics of the investigation, and I do not intend this piece to be a criticism of any of the parties involved. I am simply attempting to address the issue in hopes that it will prevent similar occurrences. The general facts of the case are that an ambulance was en route to a call and was traveling on the Georgia 10 Loop, a four-lane divided highway that forms a perimeter route around Athens and passes through Clarke and Oconee Counties. Upon seeing the ambulance, a driver stopped in the roadway and was struck from behind by a pickup truck. A third vehicle was also struck during the collision. The above facts are sufficient for the purposes of this discussion, and I will not delve into the other issues arising from this tragedy at this time.
Pulling to the right and stopping sounds simple, and under ideal conditions it would be easy to achieve; however, ideal conditions would preclude the need for emergency response in the first place. Traffic congestion may not allow for a driver to move immediately to the right and stop. Other mitigating but certainly not alleviating factors are that vehicle manufacturers are producing vehicles that virtually shut out road noise, and the market is burgeoning with communication and media devices that often get used within vehicles creating more distractions. It is not uncommon at highway speeds for the sound of the siren and the emergency vehicle to “arrive” at virtually the same time thus not allowing for much reaction time on the part of drivers. This is why it is important for the drivers of emergency vehicles to not look upon the lights and sirens as creating a magic bubble that will give them instant right of way and a clear path to their call.
Pulling to the right as soon as practicable and stopping until the emergency vehicle passes is the preferred and expected response. Simply pulling to the right and continuing may prevent the emergency vehicle operator from being able to make a right hand turn. If you stop and allow it pass prior to continuing, it should allow enough time and space for the emergency vehicle to make any necessary maneuvers.