Police car emergency response

Chief Dave Pajnic
Cambridge Police

We have all seen emergency vehicles, such as a police car, fire engine, or ambulance, drive past us with their emergency lights and sirens on. The vast majority of people understand that these personnel frequently respond to emergencies. Responding to emergencies in “emergency response” mode, with lights and sirens on, is a part of their job.

However, on occasion, the police department will receive a call from someone complaining about a police vehicle making an emergency response. The call usually starts out like this: “A police car drove past me with their lights and siren on. Why did they do that?” Well, the simple answer is, they were responding to an emergency. Someone at the other end of that officer’s route needed help. When the caller is asked “If you or a loved one had an emergency how quickly would you want the police to respond?” their usual reply is “Well, as quickly as possible of course.”

Minnesota State Statutes allow emergency vehicle operators to disregard various traffic laws, such as speed limits, stop signals, etc., when responding to an emergency call. Police officers and other emergency vehicle operators are trained in emergency response driving and are taught to drive in a safe manner in a variety of situations. For example, while emergency vehicles being operated in emergency response mode have the right-of-way at intersections, emergency drivers are taught to slow down and use caution at the intersection, or even stop if necessary.

Statutes also require other drivers on the roadway to yield for emergency vehicles. From the Minnesota Driver’s Manual:  “When an emergency vehicle, such as an ambulance, fire truck, or police car, displaying flashing red lights and sounding a siren or bell approaches your vehicle on a two-way road, you must pull to the right and stop. If you are traveling on a one-way road, you must pull to whichever side is nearest and stop. If you are within an intersection, proceed through it before stopping. Remain stopped until all emergency vehicles have passed. A law enforcement officer with probable cause to believe a driver has violated this law may arrest the driver within four hours of the violation.”

Drivers must also use caution when passing stopped emergency vehicles: “When an emergency vehicle that has its emergency lights flashing is stopped on or next to a road that has two lanes in the same direction, the Move Over Law requires that you move to the lane farthest away from the vehicle, if possible to do so safely.” If you are a pedestrian and an emergency vehicle approaches in emergency response mode, stay out of the roadway and let the vehicle pass safely by.

In 2011 Cambridge police officers responded to over 500 medical emergencies alone. That does not include the hundreds of other responses to accidents with injured persons, crimes in progress, and numerous other types of emergencies. Whenever you see an emergency vehicle drive past with their lights and siren on remember that they are headed to someone who needs their help. It may not be an emergency to you, but it is to that person.