When you’re driving, you may see an ambulance or fire truck with sirens blaring and lights flashing zoom past your car. What do you have to do at that point? Do the rules of the road still apply? Does the emergency vehicle have to follow any laws if there’s an urgent situation?
Well, the blunt answer is yes—emergency vehicles are still subject to speed limits. However, some states provide exceptions for emergency personnel during certain situations. Let’s take a closer look at the various elements affecting speed limits as far as emergency vehicles are concerned.
What Are Emergency Vehicles?
In plain language, an emergency vehicle is just as it sounds – a vehicle used to respond to incidents that present a high level of urgency. Some of the most widely recognized types of emergency vehicles include ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars on urgent security missions.
The Law: Are They Exempt from Speed Limits?
You might be surprised to learn that emergency vehicles are still subject to speed limits. The posted speed limit is set by state laws and applies to all vehicles, including emergency and service vehicles.
While it’s true that an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance can exceed the posted limit in a life-threatening situation, the driver must do so only if it’s necessary for reaching the destination safely. Not all drivers have the authority to disregard the legal limit on their own.
Only certain agencies may have permission from the area’s Department of Transportation (DOT) or equivalent agency to allow their drivers more latitude when driving under these circumstances.
Some examples include:
- Healthcare workers
- Police officers
- Highway maintenance workers
As long as they are in an official capacity while operating their vehicle(s), these individuals may disregard any traffic control device (and thus ignore any associated speed limits) if doing so would help them save a life or perform their duties more effectively.
Why Do Emergency Vehicles Have Speed Limits?
It is crucial to note that exceeding the set speed limit while on the road does not excuse endangerment or reckless driving, despite the circumstance that prompted your decision. Moreover, the roads have signs and signals for a reason, some of which might be hard to catch when driving at extreme speeds.
The same logic applies when talking about emergency responders: If an ambulance driver speeds past your car because their lights are flashing and sirens are blaring, then it doesn’t matter how fast they were going—it could still count as endangerment or recklessness on the road! And what does it mean to other road users, who might potentially be injured in a wreck caused by a speeding ambulance?
Well, like all other vehicles, ambulances also need insurance to be allowed on the road. This is often purchased as automobile liability or part of a larger package in the case of emergency service providers.
Since ambulance costs are usually not covered by Medicare and many standard health insurance policies, many people resort to seeking personal ambulance cover.
This is often through private health insurance or dedicated emergency insurance policies provided in your area. In Australia, people are fond of using tools like iSelect to compare ambulance covers and other kinds of health policies so they can pick the best one for their needs.
Speed Laws for Emergency Vehicles Vary by State
While the maximum speed limit for emergency vehicles is generally 70 mph, there are a few exceptions. Different states have different laws regarding how fast an emergency vehicle can go and still be considered an “emergency” vehicle.
For example, Hawaii allows fire trucks and ambulances to exceed the posted speed limit by up to 10 miles per hour (mph), while New York allows them to go up to 20 mph over.
In addition, each type of emergency vehicle has its own set of rules. For instance, police cars can drive faster than fire trucks or ambulances in some states.
Sirens or flashing lights may allow other types of vehicles—such as garbage trucks—to proceed through traffic faster than usual. Some roads also have special speed limits that apply only during certain times of the day or peculiar weather conditions.
Indeed, speed laws are set to govern every automotive road user, including drivers of emergency vehicles. Not only this, each state has laws in place to oversee the use of emergency lights, sirens, and other signals by these vehicles.
As a law-abiding citizen, it is always wise to determine and follow the driving regulations regardless of the kind of vehicle you’re operating on the road.