It’s simple: Hear a siren, pull over |

It’s simple: Hear a siren, pull over

You’re driving down the road, singing along with the radio, adjusting the heater when a fire truck comes speeding up behind you. Lights, sirens, action. What do you do?

Most drivers claim they know. Whether they actually respond properly is the question.

South Shore resident Lara Hilton said she pulls over as soon as she hears sirens.

“Yeah. I know what to do, pull over,” Hilton said. “To the right.”

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ 1999 California Driver’s Handbook, Hilton is correct. Drivers must slow down and pull over to the right for emergency vehicles.

“You must yield the right-of-way to a police car, fire engine, ambulance or other emergency vehicle using a siren and red light. Pull as close to the right edge of the road as possible and stop until the emergency vehicle(s) has passed. However, don’t stop in an intersection. Continue through the intersection and then pull to the right as soon as you can.”

According to South Lake Tahoe Fire Capt. Brad Jackson, most people try to follow the rules.

“If they don’t, it’s because with the windows are up and the radio on, not even on loud, just on, the average person hears the fire engine when it’s right on their rear bumper,” Jackson said.

“We have wigwags on the headlights, which means they alternate back and forth, so a lot of people will see the lights way before they hear sirens.”

Ron Gramanz said he usually hears the sirens first, depending on which way the vehicle is headed.

“When I hear them, I pull over,” Gramanz said. “I veer to the right. But a lot of people don’t get out of the way fast enough. They just try to keep going.”

Coupled with those people ignore the sirens are those who simply do not notice them. Talking on a cellular phone or changing the music are common distractions.

“Cell phones are probably the worst distraction we have going now,” said Sgt. Les Scott of the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. “When people are on the phone, they’re really not paying attention to what’s going on around them.”

No matter what you are doing, you should slowly pull over to the right and stop, Jackson said.

“A lot of times people will follow us so they can get where they’re going faster, but you should pull to the right,” he added.

It is against the law to follow within 300 feet of any emergency vehicle that is answering an emergency call, according to the 1999 California Driver’s Handbook.

In special emergency situations, any order or signal given by a police officer or firefighter must be followed, “even if it conflicts with existing signs, signals or laws.”

Paramedic Jeff Bates, general manager at Lake Tahoe Ambulance, said he thinks that people in general don’t even try to get out of the way.

“The ambulance may as well have a red target on it, because (people) pull out in front of us,” Bates said. “They cut us off.

“They’re not paying attention. The rear view mirror was made to put on makeup, right? Not to see what’s going on around you. Nobody drives defensively.”

Defensive driving is crucial in stormy weather, Bates said. And he had a few tips to offer.

“Drive slowly. Drive defensively and leave a lot of margin between you and the car in front of you,” he said. “And when you hear the sirens, try to merge to the right as slowly as you can and don’t step on your brakes.”

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