We should all drive ‘with due regard’

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A frightening scene unfolded at one of the city’s busiest intersections a week ago.

An ambulance T-boned the passenger side of a police SUV, totalling both vehicles and sending both drivers to the hospital.

In the aftermath of the incident it became clear that neither driver was facing life-threatening injuries. However, some frightening realizations also emerged.

It’s frightening that a vehicle weighing several tons hurtled through an intersection into the side of another.

It’s frightening to think that if the police officer had been heading the other way or had a passenger, Saturday’s front page story might have been much different and darker.

It’s frightening that it could have been a mom hauling a couple of little kids whose vehicle was struck.

After an incident like this, one obvious question usually follows: Who is at fault?

While that question may be important to reporters, police investigators and insurance adjusters, another question is more important moving forward.

What can all of us do to ensure the road is safe for emergency responder and civilian motorists?

Indiana Code (Section 9-21-1-8) has some specific things to say about such situations. A person driving an authorized emergency vehicle while utilizing lights and sirens may:

• Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as necessary for safe operation.

• Exceed the maximum speed limits if the person who drives the vehicle does not endanger life or property.

• Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.

Likewise, Indiana Code (Section 9-21-8-35) lays out some pretty specific rules for civilian motorists when an emergency vehicle approaches, saying that in such situations a driver must:

• Yield the right-of-way.

• 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.

• Stop and remain in the position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed.

And none of these directly addresses the problem at hand — intersections. It’s always wise to scan for cross traffic as you approach an intersection, even if you have the light.

The law goes on to lay out the legal penalty for those who violate these provisions.

On the other hand, the emergency responders are also not let off the hook.

This section does not operate to relieve the person who drives an authorized emergency vehicle ... from the duty to operate the vehicle with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway.

In the end, the solutions are relatively simple, even if they require some habit changes.

If you’re a regular driver, pay a little more attention out there. Scan the road all the time for anything out of the ordinary. Avoid distractions inside and outside of the car. Keep an eye out at intersections. Listen for sirens, air horns or any other sound that’s out of the ordinary.

If you’re an emergency driver, remember that other drivers aren’t always on the lookout for you. In any situation, ask yourself “How fast is too fast?” and “Do I know this intersection is clear?” and “Does that other driver see me?”

Now might also be a good time for emergency agencies to review some things. Is training or re-training in order for drivers? Do new standard operating procedures need to be written regarding emergent runs?

For some agencies, everything may already be in order, but it’s never a bad time to double check.

After all, in order for our emergency responders to keep the rest of us safe, they have to get to the scene in one piece.

Above all, one phrase in the law above is something that all drivers, not just emergency responders, should take to heart.

If we aren’t all driving “with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway,” then what business do we have behind the wheel?