Ask the Motor Cop | Pull over for emergency vehicle on other side of divider?

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Question: Jerry, my name is Steve, and I am not sure what I am actually supposed to do when I am driving on a road with a raised center divider and I see an emergency vehicle with lights and siren coming in the opposite direction. Am I required to stop? 

— Steve 

Answer: Thank you, Steve, for that important question, commonly asked and frequently misunderstood. 

The California Vehicle Code clearly states that upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle that is sounding a siren and displaying flashing lights, our obligation is to immediately drive to the right edge or curb of the highway, clear of any intersection, and stop and remain stopped until that emergency vehicle has passed.  

Once passed, it is a violation to follow within 300 feet of the emergency vehicle. Note that the Vehicle Code uses the word “approaching,” which would indicate coming from either direction. That would then include all vehicles on both sides of the roadway. It didn’t exempt center dividers present, whether raised or painted.  

There are numerous situations why it would be necessary for emergency vehicles to drive left of center in traffic. Common sense would indicate that on a freeway, with a concrete divider, this would not apply to traffic traveling in the opposite direction. 

Maybe you have seen, as I have, an emergency vehicle, lights and siren activated, approaching a jammed busy intersection ahead, then crossing the center divider, driving left of center, passing the stopped vehicles and then back to the right side of the roadway at the intersection ahead. 

Again Steve, thanks for the question. I hope that I was able to help you. Drive carefully. 

Jerry Schlund, a Santa Clarita Valley resident, is a retired Los Angeles Police Department motor officer with over 24 years riding. He was a certified radar instructor — both laser and doppler — and was instrumental in California vehicle code amendments. He was a traffic school instructor for 25 years. Have a question for the motor cop? Send your questions to [email protected].  

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