Although left turns can seem routine, they are also relatively risky maneuvers with many variables to consider. We’ve discussed how different types of vehicles must consider different factors when making left turns. In this post, we will discuss how left turns are similarly challenging for emergency vehicles as well as the additional factors that emergency responders must consider when responding to a crisis.
The Challenges of Left Turns
For emergency vehicles, left turns present unique situations and protocols. Additionally, emergency vehicles must consider all of the usual risks associated with left turns under the pressure of an emergency response. When responding to medical crises, fires, or law enforcement situations, every second counts. Especially at busy intersections, left turns often require crossing the path of oncoming traffic and considering pedestrians in the crosswalk. Some of the challenges associate with left turns include the following:
- Heavy Traffic: In areas with heavy congestion, making left turns can be particularly challenging. For example, it can be difficult to find a safe gap in oncoming traffic in intersections without designated green arrows.
- Blind Spots: When navigating traffic of any kinds, it is important to have an awareness of what may be in your blind spot. Like other vehicles, emergency vehicles also have blind spots that they need to be aware of when completing turns.
- Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety: Left turning vehicles at intersections often have to cross a pedestrian crosswalk. When making a left turn without a protected arrow, pedestrians typically have a walk sign and therefore the right of way. All vehicles should be aware of pedestrians and bicyclists in the crosswalk.
Protocols for Executing Safe Left Turns for Emergency Vehicles:
- Using Sirens and Lights: When making left turns in an emergency scenario, it is important for emergency vehicles to use their lights and sirens. These tools signal to other drivers that they should yield the right of way, potentially allowing emergency vehicles to complete their left turns more quickly while maintaining safety. When an emergency vehicle approaches with lights and siren activated, all other vehicles are required to pull over to the right. All other vehicles must slow down or come to a complete stop if necessary for the emergency vehicle to pass.
- Observe Traffic Rules: Emergency vehicles are allowed to proceed through red lights and stop signs. However, they must also follow the other rules of the road when executing a lefty turn. They need to make sure it is safe to complete the turn, even if sirens and lights are activating. Sirens do not exempt emergency vehicles from exercising caution.
- Safeguarding Pedestrians: Emergency vehicle operators are required to use their horns and sirens to indicate their intent. This acts as a warning to both other vehicles on the road and pedestrians. However, emergency vehicles still need to exercise extra caution when making a left turn in case there may be pedestrians in the crosswalk. It is important to emergency responders not to proceed to hastily and to assume that there may be a pedestrian in their path.
- Communication and Coordination: Effective communication between emergency vehicle operators and their dispatchers is vital. Dispatchers play a crucial role in providing real-time information on traffic conditions, road closures, and alternative routes to avoid left turns in heavy traffic whenever possible. This collaborative approach ensures that emergency vehicles can reach their destinations safely and promptly.
- Training and Education: Operating emergency vehicles requires extensive training and education about how to drive safely in high-stress situations. This training includes education about how to proceed with left turns. Drivers should be sure to remember their training in order to execute the safest possible left turn efficiently.
- Advanced Safety Equipment: Modern emergency vehicles have additional safety equipment to help drivers proceed safely through intersections. One such piece of equipment is the intersection preemption system, allowing drivers to change traffic lights to allow them to proceed through the intersection or with making a left turn.
The Role of Intersection Preemption Systems
There are several advantages to intersection preemption systems when it comes to left turns or otherwise navigating intersections:
- Green Light Priority: The main purpose of intersection preemption systems is to change traffic lights so that the emergency vehicles have a green light allowing them to proceed in their desired direction. This can help drivers proceed with left turns with minimal delays.
- Traffic Signal Override: The other side of the “green light priority system’ is the signal override that occurs in the other direction. For example, when the emergency vehicle changes the light to green so that they may complete their left turn, all other signals at the intersection turn red to avoid conflicting traffic patterns.
- Enhanced Safety: By reducing traffic in confliction directions, emergency vehicle drivers are able to create a safer path to complete their left turn. For example, the green light signaling to oncoming traffic may turn red to allow driver to proceed with their turn while reducing the risk of a collision with oncoming traffic.
- Efficiency: These systems not only create a safer path for emergency vehicles, but also increase efficiency. For example, if an ambulance driver does not have to wait for oncoming traffic, they may be able to complete their left turn significantly more quickly. However, emergency vehicles should still proceed with caution when making left turns.
For drivers of emergency vehicles, navigating left turns safely is a critical skill. These drivers must consider the ever-changing variables associated with left turns at busy intersections while navigating relatively quickly. Emergency vehicle drivers also have additional tools they can use to complete left turns more safely and efficiently such as sirens, lights, and intersection preemption systems.
Erven with these tools, emergency responders should also remember the need to be extra cautious when executing left turns. If you are driving and you hear the sirens of an emergency vehicle, you must pull over to the right and slow down/come to a complete stop. Never ignore the lights or sirens of an emergency vehicle. Together, we can keep the roads safe for everyone by following these simple rules of the road.