Tips to Avoid Endangering First Responders During Traffic Stops

In the late evening of November 18, 2016, Utah State Trooper Eric Ellsworth was sent to protect passing vehicles from a downed power line on State Road 13 in Northern Utah. After arriving at the scene, Trooper Ellsworth directed traffic away from the downed power lines. As Trooper Ellsworth was speaking to the driver of a commercial vehicle, he was struck by another vehicle sending him sprawling across the icy road. Trooper Ellsworth passed away four days later.

Unfortunately, tragedies like this happen far too often. The most dangerous place for first responders nationwide is on the road. Do your part to protect first responders by paying attention.

Slow Down If You See an Emergency Vehicle

If you see red and blue lights in the distance, slow down before you get close to the officer and the stopped vehicles. The reduced speed will allow you to avoid obstacles and respond to any dangers in the road.

Be especially careful in snowy and icy conditions where slamming on the brakes could cause your vehicles to swerve into the shoulder or oncoming traffic.

Move Over So First Responders Can Do Their Jobs

Make sure that it is safe to do so, but whenever possible change lanes or move over to give emergency vehicles enough space to work safely. It is also courteous to allow vehicles traveling next to you to enter your lane to make room for emergency vehicles.

Make A Plan to Avoid the Emergency

Begin to figure out how you will avoid the emergency vehicle when you first see the flashing lights. Slow down and try to get over. If you cannot move over, keep traveling slowly – very slowly.

Look Where You Want to Go

Drivers tend to travel toward whatever they are looking at. If a driver is staring at a first responder or an accident instead of the road ahead, he or she may become distracted by the emergency and cause another accident. Safety is more important than news-gathering. Always keep your eyes on the road in front of you.

First Responders and Montana Law

Making way for emergency vehicles and first responders is more than just polite. It is the law. According to Montana Code Ann. § 61-8-346:

Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle making use of audible and visual signals . . . .the operator of every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way and shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection and shall stop and remain in that position until the authorized emergency vehicle or police vehicle has passed, except when otherwise directed by a police officer or highway patrol officer.
. . . .
upon approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle or police vehicle that is displaying visible signals of flashing or rotating amber, blue, red, or green lights, the operator of the approaching vehicle shall:

(a) reduce the vehicle’s speed, proceed with caution, and, if possible considering safety and traffic conditions, move to a lane that is not adjacent to the lane in which the authorized emergency vehicle or police vehicle is located or move as far away from the authorized emergency vehicle or police vehicle as possible; or

(b) if changing lanes is not possible or is determined to be unsafe, reduce the vehicle’s speed, proceed with caution, and maintain a reduced speed, appropriate to the road and the conditions, through the area where the authorized emergency vehicle or police vehicle is stopped.

(4) Upon approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle or police vehicle that is displaying visible signals of flashing or rotating amber, blue, red, or green lights on a public highway with a posted speed limit of 50 miles per hour or greater when driving in a lane that is directly next to the emergency vehicle or police vehicle, the operator of the approaching vehicle shall reduce the vehicle’s speed by at least 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit.