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SA road etiquette: Emergency vehicle 101

2014-09-23 09:34

GIVES GUYS LIKE THIS A BREAK: By responding appropriately and not blocking an emergency vehicle’s path you could help save somebody's life. Buff up your Road Etiquette 101. Image: Netcare 911

SCENARIO: An eight-year-old child has an asthma attack at home and cannot breathe. While the child's life hangs in the balance an emergency response unit is fighting through peak-hour traffic... are YOU in the way?

For every second an emergency vehicle is delayed that child‘s chance of survival decreases. Sad, then, that many road users in South Africa simply do not realise that how they react to emergency vehicles can mean life - or death - says Netcare 911.

VIDEO: Emergency vehicles - watch how it's done in Poland

Peter de Kock of the Fury Motor Group, a volunteer on a unique road-crash support vehicle sponsored by Fury and Cartrack and managed by Netcare 911, comments: “Most drivers do not know how to behave when an emergency vehicle approaches.”


Neill Visser, Netcare 911 operations manager for Gauteng West, added: “Some will try to ‘clear’ the way for us but will put their own lives at risk in doing so. Others are bewildered and freeze because they do not know what to do and block our path.
“Some are oblivious to the approaching lights and sirens because the music in their vehicle is too loud or they are simply not paying attention and arrogant drivers who refuse to move out of the way are also the order of the day.

“It places us in the difficult position of having to try to weave in and out of traffic in an attempt to move around a driver.”

Shalen Ramduth, general manager of inland and aeromedical operations at Netcare 911, comments that the biggest concern in SA was that freeway emergency lanes are frequently used by impatient drivers who want to avoid traffic congestion.

Ramduth said: “We often find that, once we have cleared the backlog in the emergency lane, the same culprits who blocked the lane will pull out behind the emergency vehicle and follow it.

“The yellow lane is there for emergency vehicles only. It is illegal to use one for anything other than an emergency or a breakdown.”


Then there are surface road junctions – the places where an emergency vehicle is most vulnerable.

Ramduth said: “Legislation stipulates that we have to come to a complete stop when crossing an intersection when the traffic light is red for us. Drivers who actually stop to let us pass are often overtaken at high speed by an impatient driver who does not realise an ambulance is crossing and drives straight into the side of the ambulance.

“We also encounter drivers who shoot through red lights, making it dangerous even if the light is green.”

Cartrack’s Juan Marais believes a lack of awareness is to blame: “South African road users are showing an increasing disregard for the rules of the road. We believe a lot of this has to do with a lack of law enforcement and is leading to collisions, road-rage incidents and disruption of the work of emergency personnel.

“The only ways this will improve is if there is more consistent and stronger enforcement of road regulations by police a policing perspective if people take a step back to realise the extraordinary impact their actions can have on a life-and-death situation.”

What to do if you spot an emergency vehicle approaching:
  • Make use of your rear-view mirrors (you will see the emergency vehicle long before you hear the sirens).
  • Relax when an emergency vehicle approaches. Look at the vehicle and/or driver as they will indicate where they want to go and respond accordingly.
  • Move towards the left so the vehicle can pass on your right.
  • Should you not be able to move left, move towards the edge of your lane so the emergency vehicle can pass between vehicles.
  • Never tailgate an emergency vehicle – it could slow or stop at any time.
  • Do not use the emergency lane if traffic is backed-up.

Visser emphasised: “The next time you see an emergency vehicle fighting its way through traffic ask yourself ‘How long can I hold my breath?’ ‘What if the victim is somebody I know?’

“Whether it’s the police going to a robbery or a major collision scene or an ambulance trying to get to a medical emergency, always consider that lives can be at stake and every second counts.

Watch how it's done in Poland: Click on the gif below to watch the clip (ignore the child-friendly frog on the dash)

Read more on:    netcare  |  south africa  |  driving tips  |  good news

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