Q: Does the law require you to pull over and stop on the right if you encounter an emergency vehicle traveling in the opposite direction on a two-lane street or road? John L., Union, Washington
A: John has strong feelings about this.
Seems he had a bad experience some time back when he failed to pull over for a firetruck headed toward him in Port Angeles.
Another driver who did pull over “chased me down to a hamburger stand and made a scene,” John told us.
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“I find nothing in traffic laws that obligates cars traveling in the opposite direction to pull to the side,” he said. “Yet everybody does this, and some do this under a strong conviction of righteous. Please explain the law here.”
OK, but I don’t think you’re going to like the answer, John.
RCW 46.61.210, which governs such situations, states in part:
“Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle making use of audible and visual signals … or of a police vehicle properly and lawfully making use of an audible signal only, the driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way and shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection and shall stop and remain in such position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed …”
Note the phrase, “the driver of every other vehicle.” Note also the lack of specification of direction of travel.
Nick Hausner, chief of operations for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, did.
“It is clear the intent is for every other vehicle, regardless of the direction being traveled, to pull over and stop,” Hausner told us.
Washington State Patrol trooper Shaneka Phillips concurred.
“The law doesn’t specify any particular direction an emergency vehicle (with its audio/visual signals activated) has to be approaching when requiring drivers to pull over,” Phillips said.
We also put the question to Pierce County deputy prosecutor Tim Jones, who specializes in felony traffic cases.
It just makes sense that everyone make way for firetrucks, ambulances and police cars headed to an emergency, no matter their direction of travel, Jones said.
“If someone in the firetruck’s lane does not yield, and the driver has to swing out into the other lane, he or she can’t have you just motoring along,” he said. “I think no matter what, if it’s an emergency vehicle, you’ve got to yield.”