Question: Could you please explain the correct way for vehicles to pass a patrol car sitting on the shoulder of the road with lights flashing and an officer writing a ticket, for example. I've heard new rules had been instituted in recent years due to several serious accidents related to situations like this, and the fines for violation are quite hefty. How about when an ambulance or aid car has lights flashing while parked on the side of the road?
Answer: The RCW is fairly lengthy but covers quite a bit of valuable information. I have copied it below. The law covers not only emergency vehicles, but also tow-truck operators and highway workers. The basic premise is, you need to change lanes away from them if you are on a multi-lane road and it is safe to do so. If you cannot change lanes, you need to slow to at, or below, the posted speed limit as you pass them.
RCW 46.61.212 Approaching emergency zones - Penalty - Violation.
(1) The driver of any motor vehicle, upon approaching an emergency zone, which is defined as the adjacent lanes of the roadway two hundred feet before and after (a) a stationary authorized emergency vehicle that is making use of audible and/or visual signals meeting the requirements of RCW 46.37.190, (b) a tow truck that is making use of visual red lights meeting the requirements of RCW 46.37.196, (c) other vehicles providing roadside assistance that are making use of warning lights with 360-degree visibility, or (d) a police vehicle properly and lawfully displaying a flashing, blinking or alternating emergency light or lights, shall:
(i) On a highway having four or more lanes, at least two of which are intended for traffic proceeding in the same direction as the approaching vehicle, proceed with caution and, if reasonable, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, yield the right of way by making a lane change or moving away from the lane or shoulder occupied by the stationary authorized emergency vehicle or police vehicle;
(ii) On a highway having less than four lanes, proceed with caution, reduce the speed of the vehicle, and, if reasonable, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, and under the rules of this chapter, yield the right of way by passing to the left at a safe distance and simultaneously yield the right of way to all vehicles traveling in the proper direction upon the highway; or
(iii) If changing lanes or moving away would be unreasonable or unsafe, proceed with due caution and reduce the speed of the vehicle.
(2) A person may not drive a vehicle in an emergency zone at a speed greater than the posted speed limit.
(3) A person found to be in violation of this section, or any infraction relating to speed restrictions in an emergency zone, must be assessed a monetary penalty equal to twice the penalty assessed under RCW 46.63.110. This penalty may not be waived, reduced or suspended.
(4) A person who drives a vehicle in an emergency zone in such a manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger any emergency zone worker or property is guilty of reckless endangerment of emergency zone workers. A violation of this subsection is a gross misdemeanor punishable under chapter 9A.20 RCW.
(5) The department shall suspend for 60 days the driver's license, permit to drive or nonresident driving privilege of a person convicted of reckless endangerment of emergency zone workers.
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David Wright is a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.