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What should motorists do when an emergency vehicle approaches?

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Nobody likes a traffic jam.

But for some, being stuck in traffic is a matter of life and death.

Emergency vehicles are dispatched to get to the scene of an emergency – which could be a fire, or a medical emergency, or any number of other possible life-threatening situations – in order to render assistance as soon as possible.

The trouble is that they get there on public roads that are used by other road users, and that can slow them down.

Every second counts when it comes to emergency response times

Interestingly, the Covid pandemic gave researchers an opportunity to measure how quickly emergency vehicles could reach their destinations with limited traffic on the roads, and one study in London found ambulance services conveying patients to hospitals saw a two-minute 39 second decline in response times, and fire services response times fall by 40 seconds. [1]

While these may not seem to be vast savings in time, it pays to remember that every second of delay equates to worse outcomes. Multiple studies have found longer response times equate to higher mortality rates in medical emergencies and motor vehicle accidents.

Rise in emergency response times on Singapore roads

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has Quality Service Indicators which aim to see units arrive at the incident location for any fire or rescue call within eight minutes 90% of the time, and ambulance arrivals to the incident location within 11 mins 80% of the time. [2]

The median time taken for an emergency ambulance to arrive at the incident location was about seven minutes in 2020, about seven minutes in 2021, and about eight minutes in 2022. [3]

Ironically, that increase in response time may have had something to do with the pandemic: Emergency Medical Services calls to the SCDF increased by 20.2% in 2022, to 256,837 calls, or about 704 calls per day. [4]

The government has stressed that road users play a crucial role in reducing response times by giving way to emergency vehicles. [5]

Despite this, there have been reports of some drivers deliberately obstructing emergency vehicles.

Still, most Singaporeans do want to do the right thing. Lives may be at stake after all. Thankfully, the majority of Singapore motorists are keen to assist emergency vehicles reach their destination quickly. The best way to do that is to know the road rules.

  • If an emergency vehicle approaches, sounding an alarm of flashing lights, move out of its path as soon as it is safe for you to do so.
  • Ascertain the direction the emergency vehicle is travelling in and give way by signalling early and filtering towards the left if it is safe to do so.
  • If you can’t move left safely, slow down and let the emergency vehicle pass you. Emergency service workers are trained to provide a rapid response and anticipate the reactions of drivers on the road.
  • Do not drive onto the wrong side of the road, run a red light, or make an illegal turn.
  • It is against the law to fail to give way to an emergency vehicle.
  • Be aware that there could be more than one emergency vehicle and they could be travelling from different directions.

Remember, erratic driving can cause further accidents so always practice caution on the road.

Under the Civil Defence Act, it is an offence to obstruct a person carrying out or performing emergency duties. Offenders can be fined up to $5,000, jailed for up to six months, or both.

Under the Road Traffic Act, obstruction of emergency vehicles responding to an emergency carries a fine of not more than $160 and four demerit points. Offenders can be charged under both acts.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, remember it’s vital to have good .
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[1] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5d30896202a18c0001b49180/t/62692e55b45ca03bd16c919c/1651060320606/Delayed+Response+%281%29.pdf
[2] https://www.scdf.gov.sg/docs/default-source/scdf-library/publications/scdf-service-quality-handbook.pdf
[3] https://www.mha.gov.sg/mediaroom/parliamentary/oral-reply-to-pq-on-average-response-times-for-emergency-vehicles-to-reach-their-destinations-in-the-past-three-years/#:~:text=Assoc%20Prof%20Muhammad%20Faishal%20Ibrahim,about%208%20minutes%20in%202022
[4] https://www.scdf.gov.sg/docs/default-source/scdf-library/amb-fire-inspection-statistics/scdf-annual-statistics-2022.pdf
[5] https://www.mha.gov.sg/mediaroom/parliamentary/written-reply-to-parliamentary-question-on-ambulance-response-times-by-mr-k-shanmugam-minister-for-home-affairs-and-minister-for-law/

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