Rules of the Road

Rules of the Road: Can emergency vehicles be cited for reckless driving?

Question: The other day I was at the intersection of Sunset and James streets going east and an ambulance with sirens going blew through the red light going about 45 mph. Up ahead at Barkley Boulevard, the driver swerved to the other side and passed through the intersections at Barkley and Orleans without a hint of brake light. I don’t think law-abiding drivers could have reacted in time to avoid an accident. I think the driver was driving dangerously. What are the rules regarding emergency vehicles on a call? Can a fire department driver be cited?

Answer: Rather than go into my thoughts and opinions, here is what the RCW says.

RCW 46.61.035 Authorized emergency vehicles.

(1) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this section, but subject to the conditions herein stated.

(2) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may:

(a) Park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of this chapter;

(b) Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation;

(c) Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he or she does not endanger life or property;

(d) Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.

(3) The exemptions herein granted to an authorized emergency vehicle shall apply only when such vehicle is making use of visual signals meeting the requirements of RCW 46.37.190, except that: (a) An authorized emergency vehicle operated as a police vehicle need not be equipped with or display a red light visible from in front of the vehicle; (b) authorized emergency vehicles shall use audible signals when necessary to warn others of the emergency nature of the situation but in no case shall they be required to use audible signals while parked or standing.

(4) The foregoing provisions shall not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall such provisions protect the driver from the consequences of his or her reckless disregard for the safety of others.