Has anyone noticed the amount of flashing lights everywhere we drive, or is it just me? Fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, street sweepers, Caltrans vehicles, construction contractors, tow trucks, garbage trucks, school buses — the list seems endless and there are many different laws associated with each one. It can be confusing.
No one wants to purposely break the law and with National Work Zone Awareness week (March 31st-April 4th) approaching, this might be a good time to review the various rules regarding flashing lights, both emergency and hazard related.
Let’s start with the parking and hazard lights. It is common to see people driving around during dawn and dusk with just their vehicle parking lights on. I realize drivers feel like they do not need headlights to see, however, they want to make themselves more visible so they turn on just the “parking” lights. Doing so is a violation of California Vehicle Code Section 24800. Parking lights are for parking and may not be used without headlights at anytime while a vehicle is being driven. In addition, headlights are required to be on officially from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise.
Hazard lights, also known as flashers, are only used as a warning device. For example, if your vehicle is disabled or parked off the roadway within 10 feet of the road. Another example is to warn other motorists of accidents or hazards on the roadway.
How about the “Move Over, Slow Down” law written in 2007? For one thing, it only applies on a freeway. This law also only applies if there is a stationary vehicle used by emergency personnel, tow operators, or Caltrans and the vehicle is operating emergency or amber warning lights. You are required to move over one lane, if available and if safe to do so. If it is not safe or is impractical to move over one lane away from the aforementioned vehicles, you must slow down to a safe speed for the conditions. Since 1921, 183 Caltrans employees have been killed on the job. Those are real people with families. So please drive safe around people working on the freeways.
Now let’s address lights and sirens, otherwise known as “Code 3.” If an emergency vehicle comes up behind with siren and lights on, we should pull over to the right and stop. However, this rarely happens. Some examples I have seen include pulling to the left into the center divide of the freeway, slowing down to about 10 mph but not moving to the right, and coming to a stop right in the middle of the road. These are real challenges for emergency responders. So here are some helpful tips:
• Don’t drive distracted.
• Don’t panic. Instead, take a deep breath and relax. Activate your right-turn signal and safely make your way to the right-hand shoulder.
• Lastly, be careful after the emergency vehicle passes you. Other vehicles might be following close behind and if you move back into the lane without first looking over your left shoulder, you might get into a collision.
It should be noted it is a violation of the law to follow an emergency vehicle utilizing its lights closer than 300 feet. Please keep a safe distance.
Lastly is the school bus. A bus driver is required to deploy a stop sign and activate the flashing red lights when loading or unloading children. At this time, all vehicles approaching the bus must stop and not pass. This is true on multi-lane roads (more than one lane traveling in the same direction) or even if the bus is all the way on the shoulder. The one exception is divided highways (roads which have a center divider bisecting them). If the bus is on the other side of the divided highway, stopping is not required.
One principle unites theses laws: courtesy. If you respect other people — construction workers, emergency personnel, children at a bus stop — and treat them the way you want to be treated, you’ll be fine.