What to Do With Flashing Lights in Your Rearview Mirror

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Seemingly out of nowhere, flashing lights and wailing sirens appear behind you. Or, you’re about to pass an emergency vehicle pulled over on the side of the road. Without thinking too much about it, do you know what to do? According to the latest poll from PEMCO Insurance, most Northwest drivers are confident they do, while others admit to simply relying on their best judgement for getting out of the way. Regardless, getting it wrong could spell trouble for even the most well-meaning drivers.

The PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll finds that about nine out of 10 drivers in Washington and Oregon (87 percent) say they’re extremely or very confident that they know the legally correct action to take when seeing emergency lights drive up behind them. And most got it right: About three-quarters (74 percent) say they slow down and move over to the right when an emergency vehicle approaches.

Fewer drivers share that same confidence when it comes to passing a traffic stop. Still, a majority (78 percent) have a high level of certainty that they know the correct procedure when they see an emergency vehicle with flashing lights pulled over on the road ahead – a situation that typically requires drivers to slow down and move left.

“While most Northwest drivers feel confident they know what to do around emergency vehicles, some may be surprised to know they can be pulled over for failing to make the proper move,” said PEMCO Spokesperson Derek Wing. “And the penalties for these violations can carry some hefty fines, too.”

The laws in Washington and Oregon require drivers to stay alert when ambulances, police cars, or other emergency vehicles appear in their rearview mirrors:

  • In both states, when an emergency vehicle approaches using its lights and sirens, drivers must yield the right-of-way and move as close to the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway as possible.
  • In Washington, the penalty for violating this law is typically $1,062, and Oregon enforces a fine of anywhere from $130 to $1,000.

When approaching an emergency vehicle off to the right side of the road, both states require drivers to slow down, and, if on a road with another open lane, move away from the right-hand side.

  • In Washington, failure to slow down or maintain a safe distance can cost you up to $764, while Oregon residents can be fined up to $1,000.

“When drivers spot an emergency vehicle’s lights flashing around them, it’s important to know the law and keep everyone’s safety in mind. Depending on the situation, it could be more complicated than just moving to the right or left,” Wing said. “Taking time to slow down and give first responders plenty of space could make a big difference in an emergency.”

For a complete summary of PEMCO’s poll results, visit www.pemco.com/poll, where you’ll find the responses collected by FBK Research of Seattle in May 2017.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll

PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey, conducted by FBK Research of Seattle, that asked Washington and Oregon residents questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 600 respondents in Washington and 600 in Oregon, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than the associated error range.

About PEMCO Insurance

PEMCO Insurance is a true Northwest company providing auto, home, and boat insurance to our neighbors since 1949. Consistently ranked highest in customer satisfaction, people are the heart of our business. They can depend on us to anticipate and support their changing needs. PEMCO is committed to serving organizations that positively impact our local communities. We were started by a Seattle schoolteacher and stay true to our roots by focusing on nonprofits and organizations that support youth, education, and public safety. To learn more, visit www.pemco.com.

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