Pull over for emergency vehicles: Deputy shares story after woman dies

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When you see an emergency vehicle approaching with its lights flashing, pull over.

That's a message from Chisago County Deputy James Mott, who was driving an ambulance to the hospital Sunday so paramedics could continue working on a patient who went into cardiac arrest, according to a post on Facebook.

He says their arrival to the hospital was delayed "several" minutes because cars on Interstate 35 didn't follow state law and pull over onto the right shoulder. The victim ended up dying, and Mott says he can't say for sure if she would have survived if they hadn't been delayed, "but it's definitely possible."

"Imagine if this victim was a loved one of yours. You’d want the seas to part so they could get to the hospital in time, right?" Mott wrote.

The law

The law requires motorists to pull over onto the right shoulder, stop their vehicle and remain stopped until the emergency vehicle (a firetruck, ambulance, police car with flashing lights and siren going) passes, but Mott says more than 100 vehicles didn't comply.

One driver nearly caused him to miss the exit because they pulled onto the shoulder, but kept driving.

"Continuing to drive on the shoulder of the road creates dangerous situations for the emergency vehicle occupants and responsible drivers who actually comply with the law," he wrote.

He said other drivers, instead of pulling over to the right side, drove in the left lane, where emergency vehicles are supposed to drive – this can force emergency vehicles to slow down and wait until the motorist in the left lane moves out of the way.

There are other situations where motorists don't need to pull over onto the right shoulder when an emergency vehicle approaches. Some of them are outlined in a Duluth News Tribune "Ask a Trooper" story from last year, by the Office of the Revisor Statutes, and in a story by KARE 11 in 2012.

What you're supposed to do

Here's a look at what motorists are required to do when they encounter an emergency vehicle on the road:

  • Drivers must yield to the right-of-way of an emergency vehicle that's responding to an emergency (has its lights flashing and siren going). That means immediately driving to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the right-hand edge or curb of the highway – but not so you're blocking an intersection – and stop until the emergency vehicle drives by.
  • If you're on a one-way street, motorists are required to drive to the closest edge or curb and stop until the emergency vehicle passes.
  • Motorists don't have to stop for an emergency vehicle if the lane of traffic they're in is separated from your lane by a physical barrier (a fence, wall or median strip), the Duluth News Tribune notes.
  • Motorists must drive stay more than 500 feet behind an emergency vehicle when it's responding to an emergency.
  • When you're driving on a road with two or more lanes, move over at least one full lane if there is an emergency vehicle stopped on the road and has its lights activated. That includes ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, maintenance and construction vehicles, and tow trucks. If you're unable to move over, slow down. This is called the Ted Foss "Move Over Law" – read more about it here.
  • Drivers who see an emergency vehicle escorting an oversize-load vehicle are required to yield the right-of-way if lights are flashing.
  • The Brainerd Dispatch noted if a police car approaches you from behind and you pull over onto the shoulder, but the police car stays behind you – you may be getting pulled over.

If you don't follow these laws, you can be arrested or cited. And a driver who intentionally obstructs an emergency vehicle or fails to follow the law "is guilty of a misdemeanor," state law says.

Next Up


House lawmaker wants to change 'move over for emergency vehicles' rule

Current law requires drivers to move over a lane when approaching emergency vehicles. A bill moving through the House would allow drivers to simply "slow down" when passing emergency vehicles. The bill's author, Republican Rep. Mike Beard, says anecdotal evidence suggests the current rules could be doing more harm than good.