Right of Ways Save Lives But Are Often Ignored

June 7, 2013

Drivers who panic and do not move over can cause an issue. In this case, first responders are unable to pass on the right. AJ DICKINSON/PHOTOS

by Kristen Hoffman

It’s something area drivers can expect to see several times a month – sirens blasting, lights flashing – an emergency vehicle is approaching.

There is no way to predict how many calls per day the Hudson Fire Department will receive, nor is there any way to predict the severity of call.  Because of this, it is important that emergency responders are able to reach the call as quickly as possible.

But emergency responders have noticed something troubling – a problem that reaches beyond Hudson.  It’s becoming very common for drivers not to yield to emergency vehicles.

Captain Morin has pretty much seen it all.  Vehicles stopping dead in the middle of the road, others try to beat the fire trucks at stoplights, follow closely behind to bypass traffic and others simply do not know what to do.

Hudson is home to many different roads in various conditions and sizes, but each causes their own problems.  Speare Road, a narrow, often used cut through can be just as dangerous during an emergency response as a larger, more congested roads such as Lowell Road.

On a recent Friday, the Hudson~Litchfield News was given the opportunity to spend the morning on a ride-a-long on one of Hudson’s fire engines.  It was here where we were able to see the issue first hand.

As the mercury rises, the number of calls generally does too, and that Friday was no different.  They had already responded to an accident on Derry Road, and were expecting more to come.

The second alarm of the morning rang through shortly after 10:15.  It was a medical emergency at Fairview Healthcare. The crew at the Burns Hill Station was covering another call, so Central Station sent over an ambulance and the Engine.  It took less than five minutes for the crew to reach the center on Lowell Road.  Though the response time was quick, it was easy to see where emergency crews could run into traffic issues.

By all means, 10:15 a.m. is not a standard rush hour in south Hudson, but there are some common bottlenecks.  The intersection of Executive Drive and Lowell Road can spur some problems.  Firefighter Glenn Brandish was driving the and explained some common issues on that portion of road.  Drivers at this point are likely to try and beat the light or pull in front of emergency response vehicles, “It’s not their emergency,” was a common sentiment throughout the station.

Caution must be exercised in the presence of fire trucks and ambulances, and often other motorists on the road head warnings to pull to the right side of the road.

According to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, vehicles in front of emergency responders must pull to the right to allow for the vehicle to pass.   While that rule is simple enough, Captain Morin said there are a number of instances where drivers don’t do this, most noticeably at traffic lights, “They don’t know what to do,” he said.  In this case, drivers are expected to drive through the light, and pull to the right. Traffic signals will switch to green, allowing vehicles in front of responders, which will turn green in anticipation of the truck approaching. During a call to the industrial park off of Lowell Road, the engine encountered a black SUV, which overtook two vehicles in the right lane before finally pulling over.  Maneuvers like this are what cost responders precious seconds. Captain Morin stressed that drivers need to be calm and courteous to ensure the safety of drivers and the crew on the emergency vehicles.

In general, Hudson drivers can hear the approaching sirens long before they see the vehicle.  When a fire truck is going 35 miles per hours, the sound of the siren can travel up to a half a mile, alerting drivers far in advance.  This sound distance is cut down dramatically once trucks hit highway speeds.  But in general, fire trucks travel no more than 5 miles per hour above the speed limit.  According to Brandish, this is done protect both firefighters and drivers on the road.  The faster the truck moves, the more likely an accident will occur.

By the end of the day Friday, Hudson Emergency Services handled 21 calls, including a house fire and fatal pedestrian accident in Litchfield.