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What must you do when you hear a siren or see red flashing lights from an ambulance or fire engine? What must you do when you hear a siren or see red flashing lights from an ambulance or fire engine?

  • A. If they're behind you speed up so you're not holding them up

  • B. Stop quickly where you are

  • C. Slow down and pull over to allow them to pass. Stop if necessary

  • D. Drive up onto the footpath

    The correct answer is C
    Correct. Do all you can to allow it to pass. Pulling to the left gives the ambulance more room and slowing down shortens the 'time exposed to danger', i.e. the time it takes to overtake you

When you hear a siren or see red flashing lights from an ambulance or fire engine, if they are following you, you must slow down and pull over. Stop if necessary. If a police car is following you with its lights flashing (which will be red and blue), then you must stop unless it passes you and continues on its way.

Improving your awareness of emergency vehicles when driving

Loud music can obscure the sound of sirens, as can ear plugs and a loud exhaust if you are riding a motorbike.

If you don't check your rear view mirror frequently you could miss an emergency vehicle trying to get past you.

A siren is an oscillating tone usually in a range within 1-3kHz. Our ears are at their most sensitive at around 2kHz, therefore the least energy is required by the siren to generate a sound that is the most audible to humans. As well as the oscillating siren which goes up and down in pitch, some emergency vehicles can use short bursts of sound with a broader frequency range. These interrupt the siren and are also better for helping you to spatially locate the siren. This is because sounds between 1-3kHz are quite difficult to locate spatially.

Different countries use different siren sounds. If you are new to driving in New Zealand, our sirens are fairly similar to American sirens. Read more about New Zealand emergency vehicle sirens.

Should you go through a red light to get out of the way of an ambulance or fire engine?

If you are waiting at an intersection and an ambulance or fire engine is behind you must not go through a red stop light. You may be fined for doing so because you put other road users in danger. The onus is on the emergency vehicle to find a way through. If you can move to the side of the lane without entering the intersection, then do that. Emergency vehicle drivers are trained not to pressurise other drivers where it might cause them to do something illegal or dangerous. On a motorway in stop-start rush hour traffic, they will be far more aggressive at getting vehicles to move than they will be at traffic lights where other vehicles are entering the intersection.

You should also not drive up on a footpath. If you are moving to the left to let an emergency vehicle past, check in your blind spots for cyclists.