Questions & Answers about Emergency Vehicles for Safer Driving

Understanding the Illinois State Statutes that pertain to emergency vehicles and the public

  • Inform the public on what to do when approaching or being approached by an emergency vehicle with its lights and/or sirens operating
  • Familiarize the public with a typical Dixon City Fire Department incident response

Ten important questions & answers every motorist should know about emergency vehicles to become a more knowledgeable driver.  Produced by the Madison Fire Department in cooperation with AAA Wisconsin.

Q. What steps should drivers take to ensure they can hear the approach of an emergency vehicle?

A. When windows are closed, drivers should remain alert for flashing lights by looking in their rear view mirrors. Radio or stereo systems should be set at a level that allows sirens or horns to be heard. Cellular phone users should concentrate on safely operating the vehicle and maintain an awareness of their surroundings. Motorists with cellular phones should use hands-free features, such as speaker phone and voice dialing, or have a passenger dial the call.

Q. Should motorists stop when they see or hear an emergency vehicle approaching with emergency lights and siren operating?

A. Yes. Illinois law states the following: “Upon the approach of any emergency vehicle giving audible signal by siren, the operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way by pulling to the right-hand side of the roadway until the emergency vehicle has passed.?

Q. What should drivers do on a multi-lane road when being approached from behind by an emergency vehicle?

A. Illinois law states that operators of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way and shall immediately drive their vehicle to a position as near as possible and parallel to the right curb or right-hand edge of the shoulder of the roadway, clear of any intersections and unless otherwise directed by a traffic officer, shall stop and remain standing in such a position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed.  In general, on a multi-lane road most emergency vehicles will be approaching from the left lane.  The best option is for operators to slow their vehicles down and move to the right lanes.  If you can’t move to the right because of traffic, we ask that you slow down and move to the right as far as possible so that the emergency vehicles can safely pass using the median lanes on the left side of the roadway.   Highways such as Route 2 are very dangerous because drivers do not slow down and in some cases operators actually try to pass the emergency vehicles…this is never acceptable, please slow down!  In many cases, emergency vehicles, because of their size and mass, as well as for safety, cannot go much faster than 70 mph.  This doesn’t mean that if you typically drive 65-80 mph you should try to pass the emergency vehicle to get ahead of them!  Again, slow down and pull over to the right!

On rare occasions on a multi-lane road, an emergency vehicle may be approaching in the far right lane.  If this occurs, use common sense by slowing down and moving out of the pathway of the emergency vehicle so that they can safely proceed ahead.  Always use common sense when driving on a multi-lane road.

Q. When drivers approach an emergency vehicle scene, what precautions should they take?

A. Do not make the emergency scene worse. Drivers should maintain a safe driving speed, keep their eyes on the road and follow directions from authorized personnel. Be aware that other emergency vehicles may be approaching the scene.

Q. At a fire scene, can motorists drive over a fire hose stretched across the street?

A. No, unless a fire department official gives them permission.

Q. What should drivers be aware of when approaching a fire station?

A. Upon approaching a fire station, motorists should be aware that fire department vehicles may be entering the street responding to a call for help. If this happens to you — STOP – and allow the emergency vehicle or vehicles to proceed.

Q. Is it illegal to follow an emergency vehicle too closely when the warning lights and siren are operating?

A. YES. A driver should not follow an authorized emergency vehicle responding to a call or alarm closer than 500 feet. Also, a driver should not park his or her vehicle within 300 of fire department vehicles that have stopped at an emergency scene.

Q. Do pedestrians have the right-of-way over an emergency vehicle responding with lights and siren operating?

A. NO. Pedestrians should remain on the sidewalk and wait until the emergency vehicle has passed. Pedestrians should always exercise caution and be aware of their safety.

Q. While responding to a call for help, what can emergency vehicles do that motorists cannot?

A. An operator of an emergency vehicle must have warning lights and siren operating to do the following: Exceed the speed limit, proceed through stop signs and stop lights, travel in opposing traffic lanes, and drive the wrong way on a one-way street. While emergency vehicles can disregard traffic laws, operators must drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using roadways.

Q. When an emergency vehicle is approaching me on a divided highway, do drivers have to pull to the right and stop?

A. NO, because the road is separated by a barrier or median. Occasionally an emergency vehicle may travel in the wrong direction on a divided highway. If this occurs, reduce your speed, yield the right of way and proceed cautiously.