Heed emergency pull-over laws

An emergency vehicle waits for a truck to pass at North Charleston station number 3 on Remount near Rivers Ave so that it is clear to leave the station to head to an accident Tuesday June 9, 2015. (Grace Beahm/Staff)

The Lowcountry is growing — its population, industrial base, tourism, construction, traffic and congestion.

And its need for emergency responders.

The more cars, the more accidents and the more people, the more heart attacks, all calling for more ambulances, police cars and fire trucks. So it’s critical that more drivers get better educated about ceding the road to those vehicles responding to emergencies.

The law is easy to understand: If you’re on a two-lane road, pull over to the right and stop until the emergency vehicle has passed. If you’re on a multi-lane road, you must move out of the way, but you’re not required to stop.

Drivers who flout the law should, very simply, be ticketed. The penalty is four points and a $237 fine. Charleston police have written 18 such citations in the past five years.

But local jurisdictions also have a responsibility for making sure emergency vehicles can respond in a timely fashion. The fact is, following the law isn’t always so easy for motorists, particularly as traffic becomes more and more of a problem. On some roads drivers don’t have room to pull over even on a normal day. When roadwork or construction slows or stops cars altogether, the challenge is exacerbated.

Sadly, medical emergencies or fires don’t slow down accordingly.

Construction, roadwork and detours disrupt traffic. There is no avoiding it.

But the authorities accountable for those disruptions must insist that they not compromise the ability of emergency vehicles to reach their destinations quickly and safely.

Without a detailed plan and vigilant adherence to it, an emergency response crew, other motorists or pedestrians, and the person or people in need of emergency attention all could suffer. And motorists couldn’t be blamed.

Fire Chief Greg Bulanow of North Charleston said congestion has been a problem for decades. But the use of cellphones by drivers behind the wheel is an extra hazard. Also, he said, increased congestion could have exponential effects. “Maybe there’s a level of frustration and they’re in more of a hurry and not noticing their surroundings,” he said of motorists.

The answers are obvious, but require effort.

So the next time you hear a siren blaring, you’re already late for an appointment and your air conditioner isn’t working, consider that you or a family member could be the ones in a burning building awaiting help from the fire truck that needs room to pass.