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How to respond to approaching emergency vehicles

Q: When driving, what should I do when meeting an emergency vehicle with its emergency lights on?

A: Thank you for this question, emergency vehicles consist of fire, emergency medical and police vehicles. Minnesota Statute 169.20, Right of Way, Subdivision 5, states that "when an emergency vehicle is approaching, with its emergency lights activated, the driver of each other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way and shall immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the right-hand edge or curb of the highway clear of any intersection, and shall stop and remain in this position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed." When approaching on a divided highway, where a clearly identified dividing section or barrier exists and the emergency vehicle is on the other side of the division, traffic may continue as normal.

When approaching an emergency vehicle parked at the side of the road with its emergency lights activated, Minnesota Statute 169.18 Subdivision 11 requires that on a road with two lanes of traffic travelling in the same direction, the driver of a vehicle must move the vehicle to the furthest lane away from the emergency vehicle, if it is possible to do so. With more than two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction, drivers must allow at least one full lane vacant between their vehicle and the emergency vehicle.

When following behind an emergency vehicle, drivers must allow at least 500 feet between their vehicle and the authorized emergency vehicle responding to an emergency.

A violation of Minnesota Statute 169.20: A peace officer may arrest a driver of a motor vehicle that is in violation of Statute 169.20, Subdivision 5 within a four-hour period following the termination of the emergency. The arrest may occur even though the violation was not committed in the presence of the peace officer (Subdivision 5a, arrest, citation, probable cause).


1. Minnesota Statute 169.18 Driving Rules.

2. Minnesota Statute 169.20 Right-of-Way.

 Roger Pohlman

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