Cape Town - South African motorists are not unfamiliar to emergency vehicles howling their sirens and flashing their lights on the country's roads.
And for the most part, drivers are very accommodating to emergency vehicles en route to an emergency or the ER.
When emergency vehicles are in a rush they can use inconsiderate tactics towards other road users.
A video sent in by a reader, and posted by Arrive Alive, shows an incident of a ambulance rushing to an emergency. The video shows many cars making their way to an intersection. For the most part, these law abiding citizens are waiting for their turn to cross the road.
However, an ambulance, using the oncoming lane, can be seen speeding past a line of vehicles and rushing through the intersection without stopping.
READ: Emergency vehicles vs. blue light brigade: Here's what SA motorists should do
The reader who captured the events on via a dash-cam had this to say:
"This morning (November 2015, 2016) we are driving back home, along the R104 (Pelindaba Road) and reached the R512 (Lanseria Road) intersection, where the Sasol Garage is.
"From behind, an ambulance approaches, lights and sirens activated. The ambulance then proceeds to overtake several cars (about five behind us) and some in front of us. Without any indication of brake lights, no obvious reduction in speed and with traffic approaching from the opposite side of the intersection, the ambulance blew straight through the three-way stop, on the wrong side of the road.
"Now my question is (for members of the public and for other medical service personnel) - how safe would you say this was? There are two arguments: You could say "nothing happened, so obviously it was safe" or you could say "what could have happened?"
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Johan Jonck from Arrive Alive says: "From the video provided we would describe the driving as thoughtless and irresponsible. The National Road Traffic Act stipulates [Section58] that a driver of a vehicle which is showing a warning lamp or sounding a siren is obliged to drive “…with due regard to the safety of other traffic…”
"This would require the driver to reduce speed and scan traffic from the sides before entering the intersection.
"Thoughtlessness - to be found in the awareness of how many collisions we find at intersections. Having an emergency siren is no guarantee that other drivers hear the siren. Keep in mind others drive with loud music and there is no ban on deaf people driving. The emergency siren should alert other road users to the presence of an emergency vehicle - but is no guarantee that they are indeed aware!
"When we approach intersections we MUST slow down and not assume safety!"
Arrive Alive advices drivers to do the following:
• Be prepared - look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights, headlights and sirens.
• Avoid loud noise and other distractions and regularly scan your rear-view mirror.
• Stay calm and make well informed decisions while staying safe and within the rules of safe driving and the law.
• Remain aware of vehicles to your right and left as well as vehicles possibly in your mirrors' blind spots.
• Check your rear-view and side mirrors to estimate the speed of the emergency vehicle and plan your next move.
• Start looking ahead for a safe area where you can pull over.
• If it would be unsafe to bring the vehicle to a safe stop - move forward at a safe speed.
• Confused or nervous drivers that stay in motion, not knowing what to do or where to go, are the drivers that usually collide with other motorists or the emergency vehicle.
• Always signal your intent to emergency vehicles and other road users by using your indicators.
• Pull over to the inside lane if possible and wait for the emergency vehicle to pass.
• Keep a foot on the brake so the brake lights let emergency vehicle drivers know you have stopped.
• Keep in mind there may be more emergency vehicles heading in the same direction.
• Be prepared in case you may be approaching the scene of a road crash.
• When you see a stopped emergency vehicle- slow down and move over a lane if possible. If traffic or other conditions prevent you from changing lanes, you must slow down and proceed with caution.
• When passing the scene of an accident do not be distracted or slow down unnecessarily - avoid causing another crash.
• When you are at an intersection with a stop sign or red light and a response vehicle is coming up behind you, stay where you are if you cannot pull to the left.
• Anticipate the likely route the driver of the emergency vehicle will take. If you're on a long road with no turnings ahead, it's sensible to assume that the emergency driver wishes to drive straight on and get past you.
• Check to make sure the way is clear and signal before merging gradually into the fast-flowing traffic.
For more guides and lists, visit Arrive Alive.
When emergency vehicles come pass
Wheels24 approached the Justice Project SA (JPSA) and Arrive Alive for comments on what SA motorists should do when confronted with these vehicles.
1. W24: Do you have to make way for emergency vehicles?
Emergency vehicles will always have right of way. Motorists do not know whether or not there is a real emergency, but it is not up to the motoring public to decide what is and what isn't. Motorists have an obligation to make way for emergency vehicles with flashing lights and/or howling sirens.
2. W24: Where do you turn to? Especially in peak traffic.
JPSA: Yielding right of way must always be done with due regard for your and other traffic’s safety. Typically in peak traffic, where there is only one lane in each direction, this is done by moving further to the left and/or onto the verge of the road.
Where there is more than one lane in each direction this is achieved by vehicles in the left lane moving further to the left and/or onto the verge of the road while vehicles in the right-hand lane move further to the right without encroaching into the path of oncoming traffic.
Arrive Alive: Move over to the side, usually towards the left, but that would depend on the road situation.
3. W24: Do these laws/rules apply to all provinces?
Yes, because all the rules of all roads in SA are governed by government.
4. W24: What does the law say?
JPSA: The law doesn’t give you the latitude to decide if it is a bona fide emergency or not. Again, see regulation 308(h).
Arrive Alive: A driver MUST give immediate and absolute right of way to any emergency vehicle that has its warning lights or siren activated.
JPSA: "One of the biggest killers on South African roads is undoubtedly arrogance and/or aggression. Whether that arrogance and/or aggression is exhibited by drivers of emergency vehicles, VIP vehicles, or ordinary motorists is irrelevant. Everyone has an absolute responsibility to drive with due care and regard for the safety of other traffic and people.
"Anyone who actively blocks an emergency vehicle should, in our view, be flogged in public for all to see, but sadly our Constitution doesn’t allow for that. Similarly, anyone who pushes other motorists off the road should also be flogged!
"Many “blue light brigade” drivers have repeatedly demonstrated that they are reckless and have no regard for anyone else and their actions must be curtailed - by legislative amendments - not motorists who take it upon themselves to stop them."
The Law in full
The National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 says on:
General duties of driver or passenger of vehicle on public road (Regulation 308)
1 No person driving or having a vehicle on a public road shall:
(a) cause such vehicle to travel backwards unless it can be done in safety, or cause it to run backwards for a distance or time longer than may be necessary for the safety or reasonable convenience of any occupant of that vehicle or of other traffic on such road; or
(b) follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent having regard to the speed of such other vehicle and the traffic on and the condition of the roadway, or more closely than is prescribed in these regulations;
(c) permit any person, animal or object to occupy any position in or on such vehicle which may prevent the driver thereof from exercising complete control over the movements of the vehicle or signalling his or her intention of stopping, slowing down or changing direction;
(d) when driving such vehicle, permit any person to take hold of or interfere with the steering or operating mechanism of the vehicle;
(e) when driving such vehicle, occupy such position that he or she does not have complete control over the vehicle or does not have a full view of the roadway and the traffic ahead of such vehicle.
(f) allow such vehicle to remain unattended on such road without setting its brake or adopting such other method as will effectively prevent the vehicle from moving from the position in which it is left;
(g) if such vehicle is parked or is stationary at the side of such road, drive the vehicle from that position unless he or she is able to do so without interfering with moving traffic approaching from any direction and with safety to himself or herself and others;
(h) fail to give an immediate and absolute right of way to a vehicle sounding a device or bell or displaying an identification lamp in terms of section 58(3) or 60 or regulation 176; - see reg 176 below
(i) allow any portion of his or her body to protrude beyond such vehicle while it is in motion on such road except for the purpose of giving any hand signal which he or she is required or authorised to give in terms of these regulations or unless he or she is engaged in examining or testing or parking such vehicle;
(j) permit any person or animal to occupy the roof, any step or running board or any other place on top of a vehicle while such vehicle is in motion;
(k) cause or allow the engine thereof to run in such manner that it emits smoke or fumes which would not be emitted if the engine were in good condition or ran in an efficient manner;
(l) cause or allow the engine thereof to run while the motor vehicle is stationary and unattended;
(m) negligently or wilfully deposit or cause or permit to be deposited any petrol or other liquid fuel or any oil or grease or other flammable or offensive matter, ashes or other refuse, of whatever nature, from such vehicle upon or alongside such road; or
(n) cause or allow the engine thereof to run while petrol or other flammable fuel is being delivered into the fuel tank of such vehicle, or cause or allow such engine to be started up before the delivery of the petrol or other flammable fuel into the fuel tank of such vehicle has been completed and the cover of such fuel tank has been replaced.
2 No person, other than the driver, shall take hold of or interfere with the steering or operating mechanism of a vehicle while it is in motion on a public road, unless it may reasonably be inferred that the driver is no longer capable of steering or controlling such vehicle.
3 No passenger in a vehicle on a public road shall permit any part of his or her body to protrude beyond such vehicle.
4 No person shall enter or alight from any vehicle on a public road unless such vehicle is stationary and unless he or she can do so with safety to himself or herself and other users of the road.
5 No person shall drive, pull or push a vehicle upon a sidewalk: Provided that the provisions of this sub-regulation shall not apply to a perambulator, invalid chair, baby cart or child’s play vehicle.
Download the full Act here.
Identification lamps (lights) (Regulation 176)
1 A bus or a goods vehicle, the gross vehicle mass of which exceeds 3 500 kilograms, and which is not a motor vehicle referred to in subregulation (2), (3) or (5), may be fitted above the windscreen with two or more identification lamps and each such lamp shall:
(a) not exceed a capacity of 21 Watts;
(b) be visible from directly in front of the motor vehicle to which it is fitted; and
(c) emit a green or amber light.
2 An ambulance, fire-fighting or rescue vehicle may be fitted with a lamp or lamps emitting an intermittently-flashing red light in any direction.
3 (a) Subject to paragraph (b), no person shall operate a motor vehicle fitted with, or in or on which is displayed, a lamp or lamps emitting a blue light or capable of emitting a blue light.
(b) The provisions of paragraph (a) does not apply to a motor vehicle operated by a member of the Service or a member of a municipal police service, both as defined in section 1 of the South African Police Service Act, 1995 (Act No. 68 of 1995), or a traffic officer, or a member of the South African Defence Force authorised in terms of section 87(1)(g) of the Defence Act, 1957 (Act No. 44 of 1957) to perform police functions, in the execution of his or her duties.
(c) A motor vehicle referred to in paragraph (b) may be fitted with a lamp or lamps emitting an intermittently-flashing
(i) blue light;
(ii) blue and amber light;
(iii) blue and red light; or
(iv) blue, amber and red light, in any direction which may, at the will of the driver, display the word “stop”.
4 A motor vehicle which is
(a) a vehicle employed in connection with the maintenance of public road;
(b) engaged in the distribution and supply of electricity;
(c) engaged in the supply of other essential public services;
(d) operated in terms of the authority granted by the MEC in terms of section 81 of the Act;
(e) a breakdown vehicle;
(f) a refuse compactor vehicle;
(g) a vehicle carrying an abnormal load and the vehicle escorting it if any, may, but a breakdown vehicle shall, be fitted with a lamp or lamps capable of emitting an intermittently-flashing amber light in any direction: Provided that such lamp shall only be used at the place where the breakdown occurred, where the maintenance or other work or an inspection is being carried out, when such breakdown vehicle is towing a motor vehicle, or in the event of a vehicle carrying an abnormal load.
5 A motor vehicle used by a medical practitioner may be fitted above the windscreen with one lamp emitting an intermittently flashing red light in any direction: Provided that such light may only be used by such medical practitioner in the bona fide exercise of his or her profession.
6 A vehicle driven by a person while he or she is responding to a disaster as contemplated in the Disaster Management Act, 2002 (Act No. 57 of 2002), may be fitted with a lamp or lamps emitting an intermittently-flashing green light in any direction.
7 A vehicle
(a) owned by a body or person registered as a security officer in terms of the Security Officers Act, 1987 (Act No. 92 of 1987); and
(b) driven by a security officer as defined in section 1 of the said Act in the course of rendering a security service, also defined in section 1 of the said Act, may be fitted with a white lens bar containing a lamp or lamps emitting an intermittently- flashing diffused white light in any direction, and containing a notice illuminated by a white light containing the word “security” and the name of the owner of the vehicle in black letters: Provided that the said lamp or lamps shall not be capable of emitting a rotating or strobe light.
Download the full Act here.