Disturbingly, the most common reaction I see on the road to the appearance of emergency vehicles is panic. An ambulance, fire truck or police vehicle is coming with its sirens going and what do you do? Your reaction needs to be calculated. Of course this needs to be true of driving in general but calculation and thought end up in the back seat for so many people.

Attentiveness in driving seems to be on the decline and has been for some time. The personal vehicle has become more of a second home that takes you to different places than anything else. Do you remain aware of other drivers and other possibilities on the road? Are you prepared to react in the event a car pulls out of a side road in front of you or inexplicably runs a red light? Do you even notice the other cars and the habits of their drivers? If not you may be one of those who responds with panic or uncertainty when emergency vehicles approach.

The simple answer to the approach of emergency vehicles is "I pull over," but this isn't always the correct reaction. You are required to get out of the way so that the emergency vehicle can continue on towards the emergency in question. If you are generally preoccupied with your elaborate car stereo system, chatting away on your cell phone and preparing microwave dinners in your dashboard microwave you may not even notice the approach of said emergency vehicles until they are on top of you. Without any time to prepare, think and calculate your reaction, you panic. Often panic will cause a new emergency situation requiring additional emergency vehicles. I once watched as a car containing a young man who was listening to his stereo so loud that his windows were shaking with every thump of the bass that he didn't notice the fire truck until it blared its horn from directly behind him. The young man was thrown into a panic, quickly trying to get out of the way and scraped his car along the side of a flower delivery van in the next lane.

If you are stopped at an intersection with an emergency vehicle coming from behind and cannot pull over anywhere safely while allowing the emergency vehicle enough room you are required to go through the red light. Of course, you must take into account the inattentiveness of other drivers and make sure crossing traffic has stopped against the green light. Many people aren't aware of this and will sit in front of the red light and wait for it to turn even if there are no cars to speak of coming from the other direction. The panicky freeze at the red light is especially bad if the emergency vehicle in question is a police cruiser. You will not be cited for going through the red light to allow the police cruiser to pass, provided its sirens are going. You may be cited for failing to get out of the way, but if the emergency is a true emergency he won't have time to stop and write a citation. Do everything possible to give the emergency vehicle safe passage.

Another element to be aware of comes with the appearance of an ambulance. Depending on whether it is on its way to an emergency or bringing someone with life threatening injuries to the hospital, it may only have lights and not sirens. If you keep yourself aware of everything going on around you while driving, flashing lights alone should not be a problem. I've seen straw chewing dirt farmers shrugging and saying, "gosh-darned thing didn't have no sirens." In addition there are times when other, non-emergency vehicles may be following the ambulance. Grant them passage as well. Sometimes these may be morons trying to slipstream their way through traffic by riding behind the ambulance, but not always.

About ten years ago a close friend of mine's father suffered a heart attack. His mother rode in the ambulance with his father but my friend and his three brothers were told to follow in their car. It did not look good and there was concern that dad wouldn't make it to the hospital. With their emergency flashers on, my friend and his brothers followed directly behind the ambulance. People got out of the way of the ambulance, but some people were borderline vindictive in their efforts to cut off the brothers. Once the ambulance passed they pulled out, trying to jam themselves between the ambulance and the brothers. Here were four young men going through the emotional trauma of knowing they were likely to lose their father at any moment and they were dealing with people on the road who weren't thinking. A car with its flashers on following closely behind an ambulance rushing through traffic towards the hospital? There may be a very good reason for it. Their dad made it to the hospital. He was brought in and immediately received medical attention, but several minutes later he passed on. His wife was at his bedside when he departed, but his four sons arrived too late. They arrived fifteen minutes after their father passed on because drivers on the road saw them as people who needed to be "taught a lesson." No one had the right to get ahead of these people, especially after their daily routine had been disrupted by that damned ambulance. They made a point to cut off, blare their horns and curse at the four brothers.

Not all vehicles responding to an emergency have lights and sirens. Sometimes there is more to the story. Some people think of emergency vehicles as a nuisance, but more often than not, they are responding to a legitimate emergency. It may be an inconvenience, but if you consider the possible reasons why this emergency vehicle is rushing through traffic your reaction could save a life... or cost one...

Be careful out there.