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Approaching an Emergency Vehicle in Ontario

When an emergency vehicle is approaching your vehicle from any direction with its flashing red or red and blue lights, or siren or bell sounding, you are required to bring your vehicle to an immediate stop.

When bringing your vehicle to a stop, you are required to bring your vehicle as near as is practical to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. When on a one-way road or divided highway having more than two lanes of traffic, move to the closest curb or edge of the roadway. Your vehicle should be parallel to the roadway and clear of any intersections, including highway on/off ramps. Do not move onto or stop on the shoulder of the roadway, as emergency vehicles may be travelling along it.

Use extreme caution when stopping your vehicle because other drivers may not yet be aware of or are already reacting to the approaching emergency vehicle. Look to the front, both sides and toward the rear of your vehicle, signal your intention to pull over well in advance and begin to adjust your vehicle’s speed to merge with any traffic to the side you are pulling to. Once you have moved your vehicle to the side, brake gradually as required and bring your vehicle to a safe stop. Avoid any sudden changes in direction or excessive braking and be aware of any vehicles approaching fast to the rear of your vehicle.

If you are in an intersection and preparing to make a turn when an emergency vehicle is approaching, you should abandon the turn and clear the intersection by proceeding straight when safe to do so, then pull to the right and stop. This will clear the intersection and minimize the possibility of a collision with the emergency vehicle should it be passing you on the side you intended to turn towards.

When the emergency vehicle has passed, check to make sure the way is clear and signal before merging back into traffic. Remain vigilant for additional emergency vehicles, and remember it is illegal to follow within 150 metres of a fire vehicle responding to an alarm.

Note: Some firefighters and volunteer medical responders may display a flashing green light when using their own vehicles to respond to a fire or medical emergency. Please yield the right-of-way to help them respond to an emergency call quickly and safely.

Police or other enforcement officers may require you to pull over and bring your vehicle to an immediate stop. Typically, the officer may signal this requirement by driving their vehicle with its emergency lights flashing and/or siren on behind your vehicle or by using hand gestures from the side of the road. When stopping your vehicle, follow the previous procedures, except that you should bring your vehicle to a stop outside of traffic lanes and onto the shoulder of the roadway where possible, or turn and stop on a side street with less traffic if in the immediate vicinity. If the officer gives direction as to where to stop, follow the officer’s directions.

Stay alert

When you see an approaching emergency vehicle with its lights or siren on, prepare to clear the way.

  • React quickly but calmly. Don’t slam on the brakes or pull over suddenly. Use your signals to alert other drivers you intend to pull over.
  • Check your rearview mirrors. Look in front and on both sides of your vehicle. Allow other vehicles to also pull over. Pull to the right and gradually come to a stop.
  • Wait for the emergency vehicle to pass and watch for other emergency vehicles that may be responding to the same call. Check to make sure the way is clear and signal before merging back into traffic.
  • Don’t drive on or block the shoulder on freeways. Emergency vehicles will use the shoulder of the road if all lanes are blocked.

Reacting to a stopped emergency vehicle or tow truck

When approaching any emergency vehicle that is stopped with its red, or red and blue, lights flashing or a tow truck with its amber lights flashing in the same direction of your travel, you are required to reduce the speed of your vehicle and proceed with caution. When reducing your speed, you are required to assess the speed of the surrounding traffic and the condition of the roadway (such as fog, rain, snow). To ensure safety, brake early and gradually to allow surrounding traffic to better adjust to a reduced speed and to ensure you have full control of your vehicle when braking.

If your vehicle has a manual transmission, it is recommended that you use your brakes, versus shifting down to a lower gear, in order to activate your rear brake lights and indicate to other drivers that you are slowing down.

When the roadway has two or more lanes of traffic in the same direction of your travel, you are required to move into a lane away from the emergency vehicle or tow truck, if safe to do so, in addition to reducing the speed of your vehicle and proceeding with caution. Similar to the procedures noted above, when slowing down and moving over, look in front and on both sides of your vehicle, and check your rearview mirrors, to determine the speed of the traffic around you and condition of the roadway. Proceed to decrease your speed similar to surrounding traffic speed, use your turn signal prior to making the lane change, and double check your rearview mirrors and shoulder check your blind spots to ensure no other vehicles are moving into or approaching that lane too fast. When safe to do so, change lanes well in advance of an emergency vehicle or a stopped tow truck with its flashing amber lights. Once in the lane, brake gradually and continue to reduce the speed of your vehicle when safe to do so. Be aware of any vehicles approaching fast to the rear of your vehicle.

Tips to remember

  • Stay alert. Avoid distractions. Keep the noise level down in your vehicle.
  • Remain calm, and do not make sudden lane changes or brake excessively.
  • Before changing direction or speed, consider road conditions, check surrounding traffic, use your mirrors, look to blind spots, and signal and brake early.
  • Keep roadway shoulders, intersections and highway ramps clear for emergency-vehicle use.
  • If your vehicle is being pulled over, in this instance, bring it to a safe stop on the shoulder of the roadway, away from traffic, following any directions from the officer.

Failing to respond to an emergency vehicle

Take emergency flashing lights and sirens seriously. Proceed with caution, clear the way and bring your vehicle to a stop, where required. It’s the law. If you don’t stop, you can be fined and get three demerit points for a first offence. For additional offences, fines increase and you could also go to jail for up to six months.

Please note the above law, fines and penalties are also applicable to a tow truck with its lamp producing intermittent flashes of amber light that is stopped on a highway.

What should I do if I am charged?

If you are charged by the police, it is important to immediately seek out the information that you will need to make important legal decisions. Being unaware of the law or the court process can result in legal missteps that can result in a conviction and penalties that will impact your life for years to come. Obtaining legal representation puts a licenced, knowledgeable, and experienced paralegal in the courtroom on your behalf to protect your interests in reducing or eliminating the consequences of a possible conviction. If you have been charged by the police, our team is here to help you. OTD Ticket Defenders Legal Services provides a no-cost, no-commitment initial consultation to assist you. Our friendly staff can be reached via the toll-free number 1-844-647-6869, by email at info@otdlegal.ca, or by text at 226-240-2480. You can also request a consultation online and one of our staff will contact you directly to assist you.

Posted under Novice Drivers, Traffic Ticket Defence

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