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Car Accidents Involving Emergency Vehicles: Understanding Right-of-Way and Safety

Understanding right-of-way and safety is crucial when sharing the road with emergency vehicles. The California Driver Handbook mandates that drivers yield to any emergency vehicle using a siren and red lights.


Despite this, accidents involving emergency vehicles do occur. In this post, we explore the unique traffic laws that apply to emergency vehicles in California and delve into the potential outcomes of such accidents. Understanding these laws is essential for all road users. In this blog, our San Diego car accident lawyers will explore the impact that having a car accident with an emergency vehicle can have you on you and whether or not you have a car accident claim.

What Are the Definitions and Types of Authorized Emergency Vehicles?

Emergency vehicles in California play a crucial role in public safety, as they are authorized to respond to emergencies and transport patients to medical facilities. It is essential to understand the definition and types of authorized emergency vehicles and their role in public safety.


Authorized emergency vehicles in California include but are not limited to police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, and other vehicles designated and authorized to respond to emergencies. These vehicles have warning lights and sirens to alert other road users to their presence and urgency.

The Role of Emergency Vehicles In Public Safety

Emergency vehicles ensure swift responses to accidents, medical emergencies, and fires. They are exempted from some traffic laws when responding to emergencies, allowing them to navigate through traffic and arrive at their destinations as quickly as possible.


However, other motorists must understand how to safely share the road with emergency vehicles to prevent accidents and ensure the efficient delivery of emergency services.


For more detailed information on California’s emergency vehicle laws, refer to the California Vehicle Code (CVC) 21055. By familiarizing yourself with the role and regulations surrounding emergency vehicles in California, you can contribute to a safer road environment for all road users and emergency responders.

California’s Right-of-Way Laws for Emergency Vehicles

California’s road laws ensure the safety of the public and emergency responders.

Understanding the “Move Over” Law

The “Move Over” law mandates that, upon noticing an emergency vehicle displaying flashing lights or sounding an audible signal, all motorists must move to the right-hand edge of the road and stop. This rule applies to single and multiple-lane roadways, and failure to comply can result in legal repercussions.

Exceptions and Exemptions for Emergency Responders

It’s important to note that while emergency responders are granted specific privileges under California law, these exemptions are not absolute. Some protocols and precautions must still be adhered to, with the understanding that the safety of all road users remains paramount. This entails exercising prudence when traversing intersections and respecting the right-of-way of pedestrians and other vehicles when practical.


Familiarizing yourself with the “Move Over law” and the exceptions and exemptions for emergency responders is necessary to ensure the well-being of emergency personnel and the public they serve.

What Are Common Causes of Accidents Involving Emergency Vehicles?

Many factors can contribute to unfortunate accidents involving emergency vehicles. Ambulances must often navigate heavy traffic and busy intersections, encountering challenges that can lead to collisions. Factors such as high speeds, limited visibility, and the urgency of reaching the scene of an emergency can all play a role in contributing to these accidents.


Additionally, drivers may not always be fully aware of how to respond to emergency vehicles, leading to confusion and potential hazards on the road.

The Impact of Response Time on Accident Rates

The speed at which emergency vehicles can respond to incidents significantly impacts accident rates. Swift response times are crucial in emergencies, but they can also lead to increased risk on the road.


Balancing the need for quick responses with safety considerations is an ongoing challenge for emergency service providers. For more information on emergency vehicle safety and right-of-way regulations, refer to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s guidelines on emergency vehicle operations.


Remembering to yield the right of way to emergency vehicles is a shared responsibility that contributes to the safety of all road users.

Liability and Legal Considerations in Emergency Vehicle Accidents

Determining fault in an accident involving an emergency vehicle is a complex process. Contrary to popular belief, the driver of a civilian car is not automatically at fault in such incidents. The emergency responder and the other parties involved are subject to scrutiny to assess fault.

How Do You Determine Fault in Accidents With Emergency Responders?

When assessing fault in accidents with emergency responders, considerations are made regarding the actions of the emergency vehicle driver. While these drivers have some exemptions from traffic laws when responding to emergencies, they must exercise reasonable care and caution. If the emergency responder is found to have taken unjustifiable risks or acted negligently, they may be held responsible for the accident.

How Does California Law Protect Emergency Responders?

California law provides protections for emergency responders under particular circumstances. The exemption of emergency vehicles from traffic laws when responding to emergencies is a crucial aspect of these protections.


However, these exemptions are conditional upon the safe execution of such actions. Additionally, an employer’s vicarious liability is also considered, as municipal, state, or federal government entities may be held accountable for the negligence of their employees in specific situations.

What Are Driver Responsibilities Near Emergency Response Scenes?

When driving, encountering emergency vehicles can be a high-stress situation. Here’s what you need to know to navigate these situations safely and responsibly:


  • Pull Over Safely: When you see or hear an emergency vehicle approaching, safely and promptly move to the right side of the road and come to a complete stop.
  • Maintain a Safe Distance: When stopping, leave enough space for the emergency vehicle to pass without obstruction.
  • Obey Traffic Laws: Do not run through red lights or stop signs to clear the way for an emergency vehicle. Instead, safely pull over to the side of the road and allow it to pass.

For more information on driver responsibilities near emergency response scenes, consult the California Department of Motor Vehicles guide on right-of-way laws.

What to Do After a Car Accident With an Emergency Vehicle

Taking immediate steps and understanding your rights is crucial in an emergency vehicle accident.


Here’s a breakdown of what you should do following a collision:


  1. Ensure Safety: First and foremost, ensure the safety of everyone involved in the accident. If anyone is injured, call for medical assistance immediately.
  2. Exchange Information: Exchange contact details and insurance information with the driver of the emergency vehicle and any other parties involved. Obtain the names and badge numbers of the emergency responders as well.
  3. Document the Scene: Take photographs of the vehicles involved, the accident scene, and any visible injuries. This documentation can be valuable when seeking legal assistance.

You must also gain a clear understanding of your rights after an accident with an emergency vehicle. You are entitled to compensation for medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering.


Every accident involving an emergency vehicle is unique, and navigating the legal aspects can be challenging. Taking immediate steps, seeking legal assistance, and understanding your rights can set the foundation for a comprehensive and effective response.

Properly Represent Yourself With Expert Help From Our Attorneys

If you’ve been involved in an accident with an emergency response vehicle, our attorneys stand ready to provide you with proper legal advice and guidance to remedy your situation.


Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation.


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