What is the Duty of a Driver to Yield to an Emergency Vehicle?

 

When travelling on a roadway or highway it is inevitable that you will encounter an emergency vehicle.  What are your obligations on the road in relation to this emergency vehicle?  Section177 of the British Columbia Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) states:

 

On the immediate approach of an emergency vehicle giving an audible signal by a bell, siren or exhaust whistle, and showing a visible flashing red light, except when otherwise directed by a peace officer, a driver must yield the right of way, and immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the nearest edge or curb of the roadway, clear of an intersection, and stop and remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed.

 

In short, section 177 states that if the emergency vehicle is giving an audible signal and showing a visible signal there is an obligation on drivers of the road to yield to the emergency vehicle.  However, as stated in the BC case of Watkins v Dormuth, 2014 BCSC 543:

 

”The duty imposed by s. 177 of the MVA to yield to an emergency vehicle is not absolute. A driver must have time to perceive and react.”

 

In Watkins, a police officer crashed into another driver while attempting to overtake the vehicle.  The police officer claimed that the other driver should have pulled over by virtue of s.177 of the MVA.  The court placed 100% of the blame on the police officer as the police car was behind her for only a short period of time. The driver of the police car did not show that this time was long enough such that a reasonably alert driver would have perceived the lights and sirens of the police car and pulled over.

 

Emergency vehicles do not have free rein in exercising their driving privileges.  They are constrained by the duty to drive with regard for due safety.

 

If you would like legal advice as a result of a car accident, please contact Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202 or toll free: 1-866-753-2202.