Road Rules for All Kinds of Flashing Signals
Flashing signals—think school buses, police cars, and snow plows—are commonplace on the road. The rules on how to deal with them are not.
Drivers can log many miles before stumbling upon a school bus, a snow plow or even a police officer. But when this does occur, it’s important to know what to do.
“There are a lot of odd situations that we’re not used to dealing with when driving,” says Scott Kuhne, a California-based professional race car driver and defensive driving instructor.
If you spot flashing lights on the road, follow Kuhne’s basic rule: Slow down and be safe. Here are additional tips for safely approaching different situations.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 19 children die each year in traffic accidents getting on or after getting off the bus. Although laws regarding the correct way to approach a slowing school bus vary by state, Kuhne says it’s best to be cautious.
“If those lights are flashing, you stop, no exceptions,” he advises. “Two lanes, four lanes: It doesn’t matter.”
It’s easier to drive with drapes on your windshield than make your way through a blizzard—no matter what you’re driving. “A snowplow driver’s visibility is just as limited as yours,” Kuhne says. “You can’t assume they see you, especially considering how high up they are.”
Follow these tips when sharing the road with a snowplow:
- Turn on your low-beam lights, slow down and let the plow pass.
- Use caution when giving snow plows room to pass. Operators plow the middle of the road first, and then return for a second pass to push the snow to the road’s edge. If you pull over to the side, you risk being buried. If you head to the left, the plow might not be able to get by.
- If you can’t get out of the way safely, make sure the plow driver sees you, and let the driver make the first move.
- When passing a snow plow: “Give it room and don’t fly by,” Kuhne says. “Work with the conditions.”
- Never pass a snow plow on the right.
Each year more than 20,000 workers are injured in road construction work zones, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Do your part to keep construction workers safe—and avoid a hefty fine—by slowing down in construction zones. Lowering your speed reduces braking time and gives you a few extra milliseconds to react.
According to numbers compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a total of 140 officers were struck and killed by vehicles from 2002 to 2011.
Abide by your state’s “Move Over” law when approaching cops and other emergency personnel. In general, you should take your foot off the gas and move to the left when you see a stopped police car.
Speeding past a funeral procession is both disrespectful and dangerous.
Follow these tips when approaching a funeral procession:
- Practice patience and slow down along with the procession.
- Avoid passing on two-lane roads. “If the procession is on a two-lane road, you don’t even try it,” says Aaron Gold, About.com’s resident car expert. “You don’t know how many cars there are.”
- When processions cross your path at an intersection, stay put even if you have the green.
- Let the entire procession pass before making a turn at an intersection.
- Reduce your speed when passing funeral processions on four-lane roads.
When you hear sirens from an ambulance or fire truck, don’t just slow down or stop. Clear the lane entirely.
Follow these tips when encountering emergency vehicles:
- If you happen to be in or near an intersection, drive through that intersection before pulling over.
- Pause before you continue driving. Sirens can blend together easily, and other emergency vehicles might be following the first.
- Check your mirrors and look over your shoulder to see if other vehicles are approaching before pulling back onto the roadway.