By Andrea Arnold

I grew up in a family where First Responders were viewed as very important members of society. We were taught from day one that they are to be respected and, in an emergency, listened to carefully. When I got my license, it became second nature to mimic the behaviour of my parents when it came to granting right of way to emergency vehicles responding to a call.

When I see red or red and blue lights flashing while I’m out driving, I will do my best to pull as far over to the right side of the road and stop. Sometimes, it isn’t safe to get all the way over. One day I met an ambulance on a hill and bridge combination. I slowed as quickly and safely as possible and moved over as far as I could.

I will admit that I didn’t remember ever learning that this is actually a law. McBride RCMP Cpl Colin Bissell told me that it is. He told me that all vehicles in BC must pull to the side of the road and stop on both sides of the road unless the road is divided by a hard barrier. Failure to do so, can result in a fine of $109.

BC Motor Vehicle Act S. 177 states that on the immediate approach of an emergency vehicle giving an audible signal by a bell, siren or exhaust whistle, and showing a visible flashing red light, except when otherwise directed by a peace officer, a driver must yield the right of way, and immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the nearest edge or curb of the roadway, clear of an intersection, and stop and remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed.

I heard from McBride District Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dave Hruby that the drivers that they encounter may need a reminder of this rule. He told me that they have not only seen countless vehicles continue on their journey without so much as a tap on the brakes to slow down, but they have had vehicles actually pass them as they were speeding down the highway responding to a call. In fact, he told me that on one call, in an area where the highway had three lanes, the fire truck was holding to the middle (something they are taught to allow more space for cars on either side). Several cars they were meeting had pulled over to the side and were giving the truck room. However, an individual at the end of the line of oncoming cars decided it was a good time to pass. Chief Hruby said they came really close to hitting that vehicle as it sped by them.

The ambulance has a limit on how fast they are able to drive as they respond to a call, said Cpl Bissell. Their limit is over what joe public’s speed limit is, but some people are not content to drive within the speeds determined to be safe, and pass anyway.

Cpl Bissell said that the RCMP do not have as many people rushing past them as they are on a call, but I suspect that has something to do with the extra blue flashing light that police cars have, and the knowledge that with that blue light comes the ability to fine for an infraction. He did say that most of the people he’s stopped for failure to yield are visitors to the country and may not know.

The need for respect for emergency vehicles doesn’t stop once they reach the scene, and is not limited to traditional first responders. Cpl Bissell says vehicles must slow down and move over for ANY Vehicle stopped on the road if it is equipped with flashing red, blue or amber lights. This includes highway maintenance, tow trucks, as well as emergency vehicles. The rules are a little less straightforward for these situations with some numbers that drivers need to keep in mind. If they slip your mind, you may be issued a fine of $173 and three penalty points. 

If the speed limit zone is 80 km/h or faster, vehicles must slow to 70 km/h

If the speed limit zone is less than 80 km/h, vehicle must slow to 40 km/h 

The recent dust kicked up from sealcoating and the varying levels of smoke in the air has resulted in obscured visibility on roadways, making it even more important to slow down when you see flashing lights because you just don’t know what you are approaching.

This newspaper serves small communities where it is often said that everybody knows everybody. It is important that we all do what we can to help each other get through the day safely. That might mean that you arrive at your destination a few minutes later than you had planned. I think that the resulting slight delay is worth it, if it means one of my neighbours, who was working on the side of the road helping with a recovery, makes it home safely.