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Emergency Vehicles (Colon) Rules of the Road

Emergency Vehicles – Do Traffic Laws Apply?

Emergency VehiclesChapter 20, Article 1 of the NC Traffic Laws in “Division of Motor Vehicles” (the NC DMV), establishes rules of the road.

Reasonable care is the legal standard for all drivers, ordinarily requiring following all traffic laws in North Carolina.

There are circumstances when emergency response vehicles, including police cars, fire trucks, EMT, and ambulances, need not comply with the law.

Speeding, even at high rates of speed, lane violations, and what might otherwise be thought of as reckless driving, can in fact be both required and entirely legal.

If in response to an emergency, during the course of official duties, first responders, law enforcement, and other emergency personnel are granted special driving privileges allowing them to get to an emergency or accident scene as quickly and safely as possible.

That may allow for driving in an emergency lane, speeding, crossing the center-line, traveling on the median, crossing highways, blocking roadways, and running red lights.

For most motorists subject to the NC DMV motor vehicle and insurance points systems, that would ordinarily result in a very expensive ticket and a court date.

It also could serve as a legal basis for punitive damages and enhanced civil liability related to willful, intentional violations of the NC traffic laws (reckless driving).

“First responders, traveling to an emergency or accident, are required to exercise due care to avoid causing more emergencies or accidents.”

– Danny Glover, Outer Banks Accident Lawyer

Even with exemptions from the rules of the road that may be afforded to emergency vehicles, the law demands reasonableness. There are limits.

Are there NC DMV Rules for Emergency Vehicles?

First responders en route to an accident or crime scene are not entirely separate and/or apart from the Motor Vehicle Laws of North Carolina.

Police and emergency vehicles may ignore certain rules of the road. In some instances, the rules of the road are inapplicable.

Yet, in responding to an emergency as part of their official, ministerial duties, emergency vehicles, police officers, fire personnel, and ambulance drivers are required to be careful.

They must exercise due caution.

They must be careful when speeding, using the emergency lane, or when executing vehicle maneuvers during emergency conditions.

Reasonable care requires emergency vehicles to avoid unnecessary risk (harm) to pedestrians and motorists.

Are Police Officers allowed to speed? Do Speeding Laws apply to Emergency Vehicles?

Speed Limits do not apply in certain circumstances under N.C.G.S. § 20-145 - When speed limit not applicable.

When emergency vehicles are operated in their official capacity, during an emergency or enforcement action, and operated with “due regard for safety,” the NC speeding laws shall not apply.

That includes things like:

  1. Speed limits when apprehending suspects, police chases, and speeding under the direction of police officers in enforcement actions
  2. Firefighters and Fire Trucks when responding to a fire alarm
  3. Public and Private Ambulance Drivers (EMT) when traveling to emergencies or accidents
The North Carolina “Move Over” Law

Generally speaking, if you observe flashing lights or see activated emergency equipment (horns, strobe lights, horns, bells, whistles, etc.), slow down and pull over.

When police, medic, fire, EMT (ambulance) turn on their emergency lights, all other motorists must “move over.”

Non-emergency vehicles are to immediately drive to the right-hand edge of the roadway or curb.

You are required to stop and remain in the stopped position until the emergency vehicle(s) have safely passed by and/or until directed by police or emergency personnel to move.

That’s true for red lights, blue lights, and “flashing lights” on police cars and emergency vehicles.

The NC Move Over Law applies to emergency vehicles (and police) that are, “. . .giving warning signal by appropriate light and by audible bell, siren or exhaust whistle.”

If you see flashing lights or hear a siren, with few exceptions, that requires pulling over.

Moving to the side of the roadway often involves slowing down first, watching for other traffic, and then carefully pulling over as safely and quickly as possible.

The Move Over Law in North Carolina requires motorists “immediately drive” to a safe location (side of the road or curb), upon, “ Approach of law enforcement, fire department or rescue squad vehicles or ambulances.”

In the event the public servant or emergency vehicle is stopped or standing “within 12 feet of the roadway,” with an “appropriate light” (warning signal), motorists must take action to protect the public servant.

That may require moving over or pulling into a different lane of travel, not nearest to the standing public servant or the emergency vehicle.

When pulling to a different lane is not possible, due to traffic conditions or other safety concerns, motorists under N.C.G.S. 20-157(f) must slow the vehicle, maintaining a safe speed” and be prepared to stop.

NC Accident Laws: Outer Banks Accident Lawyer Info
  1. 7 Steps to Take After a Car Accident
  2. Reckless Driving
  3. Wrongful Death
  4. Retaining an OBX Injury Lawyer
  5. Who is liable for an accident?
  6. No such thing as an “Accident”
What Happens if You’re in an Accident with a Police Car or an Ambulance?

police carEmergency vehicles and police cars are allowed to speed at times. The NC speeding laws shall not apply.

If the law does not apply, speeding is not, in those limited circumstances, considered “breaking the law.”

Exceeding the posted speed limit, when engaged in official duties and responding to an emergency or law enforcement action, may not be per se negligent under the NC accident laws.

Therefore, there are instances when first responders, fire, medic, ambulance drivers, and law enforcement cannot be held legally responsible (liable) for accidents.

If speeding, emergency personnel must do so in a safe fashion. They are not completely immune for legal liability.

Other motorists are also required to yield to emergency vehicles under the North Carolina Move Over Law.

North Carolina is one of the few remaining states subject to Contributory Negligence laws regarding personal injury and accident claims.

Legal actions may be brought against emergency vehicles for the accidents they cause, subject to the defenses and other legal protections afforded under “contrib” in North Carolina.

If you have been hurt in a wreck caused by emergency vehicles or police, or have legal questions about accident cases on the Outer Banks, call Danny Glover at: 252-299-5300.

You may also reach Danny by email:

Our law firm provides free legal consultations for personal injury and accident cases. Call now to schedule an appointment.

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