Car accident where it rear-ended a fire truck.

What to Do When An Emergency Vehicle Hits You - A Guide

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Special Traffic Laws for Emergency Vehicles in CA

   1. California's "Move Over" Law

   2. Vehicle Code 21806

III. What Happens to a Driver Violates Section 21806?

IV. Understanding the Scenario

V. What to do if the Emergency vehicle Collides with You

VI. Do I Have a Case?

VII. Conclusion



In the hustle and bustle of daily life, encountering emergency vehicles on the road is not uncommon. These vehicles, equipped with flashing lights and blaring sirens, play a crucial role in responding to emergencies swiftly. However, there might be instances when you find yourself involved in an accident with an emergency vehicle. Knowing how to react in such a situation is vital for your safety and the safety of those around you. In this guide, we'll provide you with a step-by-step approach on what to do when an emergency vehicle hits you.

Let's first recall that the California Driver Handbook says that drivers must let police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances go by if they have their sirens and red lights on. Most drivers know how to move over and let these vehicles pass, but sometimes accidents happen. Here, we look at what the law says about these situations and what might happen if there's a collision.

Ambulance at high speed in the road.
Photo by Jonnica Hill on Unsplash

Special Traffic Laws for Emergency Vehicles in CA

When a police car, firetruck, or ambulance has its lights and sirens going, the driver must move over to the far right lane. They can use any other lane they want, but they must give the vehicle space when possible.

A driver who gets too close to these vehicles can cause problems. For example, they might:

- Distract the driver of the emergency vehicle

- Make the driver of the emergency vehicle worry about their safety

- Put themselves and others at risk

Here are some of the laws that govern emergency vehicles in the state of California:

1 - California's "Move Over" Law

The CA Vehicle Code (VC) requires drivers to change lanes when approaching a parked emergency vehicle with its lights flashing but no siren. If a driver must cross a solid double yellow line to make this move, they must drive very slowly so as not to endanger themselves or other vehicles. If there isn't enough space to move over, drivers must slow down and proceed with caution, just like they would if they were approaching a vehicle with its lights flashing. Note that if a lane is too narrow for a driver to move over without driving onto the shoulder, the driver can stay in their original lane.

2 - Vehicle Code 21806

California Vehicle Code 21806 pertains to the right-of-way for emergency vehicles that are responding to emergencies while using audible or visual signals. This section of the California Vehicle Code outlines the rules that drivers must follow when encountering emergency vehicles that are displaying their lights and/or sounding their sirens.

Here's a summary of the key points of California Vehicle Code 21806:

  1. Yielding Right-of-Way: When an authorized emergency vehicle, such as a police car, fire truck, or ambulance, is responding to an emergency and is using its lights and sirens, all other drivers on the road must yield the right-of-way. This means that drivers need to pull over to the right edge of the road or as near to the right-hand edge as possible, clear of any intersection, and stop.
  2. Stopping at Intersections: If an emergency vehicle is approaching an intersection with its lights and sirens on, all other drivers must stop at the nearest intersection, unless otherwise directed by a traffic control device or a law enforcement officer. This allows the emergency vehicle to proceed through the intersection without delay.
  3. Not Obstructing Path: Drivers should not enter any intersection or marked crosswalk while an emergency vehicle is passing through, as this could obstruct their path.
  4. Remaining Stopped: Drivers must remain stopped until the emergency vehicle has passed or until directed by a law enforcement officer to proceed.
  5. Exemptions: Public transit vehicles, such as buses, are not required to stop when encountering an emergency vehicle. However, they should still yield the right-of-way and move to the right as much as possible to allow the emergency vehicle to pass.

Failure to comply with these rules can result in penalties, fines, and potential legal consequences. The purpose of this section in the California Vehicle Code is to ensure that emergency responders can navigate through traffic safely and efficiently when responding to emergencies.

It's important to note that laws and regulations can change over time, so it's recommended to refer to the most recent version of the California Vehicle Code or consult with legal professionals if you need the most up-to-date information.

Close up of police sirens at night.
Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash

What Happens to a Driver Violates Section 21806?

If a driver violates California Vehicle Code Section 21806, which pertains to failing to yield the right-of-way to an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens, they could face legal consequences and penalties. The specific consequences for violating this section can vary depending on the circumstances, local regulations, and the discretion of law enforcement and the court. However, here are some general outcomes that a driver might expect:

  1. Traffic Violation Fine: Violating Section 21806 is typically considered a traffic violation. As a result, the driver may be issued a citation by a law enforcement officer. The fine associated with the citation can vary, and it might be influenced by the local jurisdiction's regulations and the severity of the violation.
  2. Points on Driving Record: In some cases, a violation of this section could result in points being added to the driver's record. Accumulating too many points on a driving record can lead to increased insurance rates and even license suspension if a certain threshold is reached.
  3. Traffic School: Depending on the circumstances and the driver's history, they might be given the option to attend traffic school in order to have the violation dismissed or to prevent the points from being added to their driving record. Completing traffic school often requires additional time and expenses.
  4. Impact on Insurance Rates: A violation of this nature could lead to an increase in the driver's insurance premiums. Insurance companies often consider traffic violations when determining policy rates.
  5. Possible Court Appearance: In some cases, drivers might be required to appear in court if they contest the violation or if it's considered a more serious offense.
  6. License Suspension: In extreme cases, repeated violations or particularly reckless behavior could lead to a temporary or even permanent suspension of the driver's license.
  7. Legal Consequences: If a violation of this nature results in an accident, injury, or damage to property, the legal consequences could be more severe. The driver might face additional charges related to the accident or the injuries caused.

It's important to remember that legal consequences can vary based on the specifics of the situation and the jurisdiction in which the violation occurs. If a driver is uncertain about the potential consequences of a violation, they should consider consulting with a legal professional or seeking advice from their local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Police car waiting at an itnersection.
Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash

Understanding the Scenario

When encountering an emergency vehicle on the road, it is crucial to not only acknowledge the urgency of the situation but also to discern the unique characteristics of various types of emergency vehicles. These vehicles include police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks, each serving a distinct purpose and signaling their presence in specific ways.

Distinguishing Between Emergency Vehicles

  • Police Cars: Recognizable by their authoritative appearance, police cars often sport distinctive color schemes, such as black and white or blue and white. They employ a combination of flashing red, blue, and white lights, indicating their presence and the need to clear the way for law enforcement operations.
  • Ambulances: Ambulances are easily identifiable due to their bright colors and reflective markings, in most states they are white-colored vans. Equipped to provide urgent medical care, they employ flashing red lights along with a distinct wailing siren that indicates the need for immediate attention.
  • Fire Trucks: Fire trucks boast a robust and utilitarian design, usually in bright red color with firefighting equipment visible. These vehicles employ flashing red lights, often accompanied by a distinctive yelping siren, signifying their response to fire-related emergencies. Easily spotted due to their massive trucks.

Practical Ways to Identify Emergency Vehicles

To aid drivers in promptly identifying emergency vehicles and taking appropriate actions, consider these practical tips:

  1. Stay Attentive: Maintain an attentive and vigilant approach to driving, regularly checking your mirrors for flashing lights and emergency vehicle markings.
  2. Learn Siren Sounds: Familiarize yourself with the distinct sounds of various emergency vehicle sirens. This knowledge can help you differentiate between police, ambulance, and fire truck alerts.
  3. Visual Identification: Be conscious of the unique visual cues associated with each type of emergency vehicle. Take note of their coloring, markings, and lighting patterns.
  4. Follow Traffic Rules: When encountering an emergency vehicle, adhere to traffic rules by pulling over to the right and stopping. Clearing a path ensures safe passage for the emergency responders.
  5. Remain Calm: Maintain your composure during emergency vehicle encounters. Staying calm enables you to make informed decisions and react appropriately.
  6. Activate Hazard Lights: If unsure of the appropriate action, turning on your hazard lights can indicate that you're aware of the emergency vehicle's presence and are proceeding with caution.
Person driving attentively in an empty highway
Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash

By acquainting yourself with the distinct attributes of emergency vehicles, their siren colors, and sounds, you contribute to road safety and facilitate the efficient movement of these vital response units. Your awareness and responsiveness play an integral role in ensuring the safety of all road users.

What to do if the Emergency vehicle Collides with You

If you are involved in a collision with an emergency vehicle (such as a police car, fire truck, or ambulance) while it is responding to an emergency, it's important to follow certain steps to ensure your safety and the well-being of others involved. Here's what you should do:

  1. Check for Injuries: First and foremost, check yourself and any passengers in your vehicle for injuries. If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately to request medical assistance.
  2. Move to a Safe Location: If your vehicle is obstructing traffic or in a dangerous position, and if it's safe to do so, move your vehicle to the side of the road or a safe location to prevent further accidents.
  3. Exchange Information: Exchange contact and insurance information with the driver of the emergency vehicle, just as you would in any other accident situation. Make sure to note the emergency vehicle's identification number, license plate, and any other relevant details.
  4. Document the Scene: If it's safe to do so, take photos of the accident scene, including the position of the vehicles, damage, and any relevant road conditions. This documentation can be helpful for insurance claims and legal purposes.
  5. Notify Authorities: Even though the collision involves an emergency vehicle, you should still contact the local police or law enforcement agency to report the accident. They will likely need to document the incident for their records.
  6. Cooperate with Authorities: When the police arrive, provide accurate and truthful information about the collision. Be prepared to explain your perspective of the events leading up to the collision.
  7. Seek Medical Attention: Even if you initially feel fine, it's a good idea to seek medical attention after the collision. Some injuries might not be immediately apparent, and getting checked by a medical professional is crucial for your health and any potential insurance claims.
  8. Contact Your Insurance Company: Notify your insurance company about the collision as soon as possible. Provide them with accurate information about the accident to initiate the claims process.
  9. Consult Legal Advice: If you believe you were not at fault for the collision or if there are legal complexities involved, consider consulting with a legal professional who specializes in traffic accidents. They can provide guidance on how to proceed and protect your rights.

Remember that each situation can be unique, and the steps you take might vary based on the circumstances. The key is to prioritize safety and ensure that proper documentation and communication are maintained to facilitate any potential insurance claims or legal proceedings.

Car sitting on the side of the road.
Image by montypeter on Freepik

Do I Have a Case?

In certain scenarios, victims who have collided with an emergency vehicle may indeed have a case for seeking compensation. Here are some situations where you might have a stronger case:

  1. Violation of Traffic Laws: If the emergency vehicle was operating in violation of traffic laws (such as running a red light or exceeding the speed limit) without proper lights and sirens, and this led to the collision, you may have a case. Emergency vehicles are typically exempt from some traffic laws, but if they were not operating within the bounds of the law, your claim could be stronger.
  2. Negligence: If the driver of the emergency vehicle was negligent in their actions and their negligence directly caused the collision, you may have a case. Negligence can include reckless driving, failure to yield, or improper maneuvering.
  3. Failure to Use Lights and Sirens: Emergency vehicles are required to use their lights and sirens when responding to emergencies. If the emergency vehicle did not use lights and sirens when required, and this lack of warning contributed to the collision, you might have a case.
  4. Proximate Cause: If it can be established that the actions of the emergency vehicle were the proximate cause of the collision and resulting injuries, your case may have stronger grounds.
  5. Injuries and Damages: If you sustained injuries and incurred damages as a direct result of the collision, you might have a case for seeking compensation. Medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, pain, and suffering are some of the damages that could be considered.

It's important to note that emergency vehicle collisions can be complex cases. The legal principles involved can vary based on state laws, local regulations, and the specific circumstances of the incident. To determine if you have a case and to understand the strength of your potential claim, it's recommended that you consult with a personal injury attorney who has experience in handling cases involving collisions with emergency vehicles. They can evaluate the details of your situation and provide guidance on how to proceed. Remember, consulting with an attorney early on can help you understand your rights and options.

For example in California, the outcome of a case involving a collision with an emergency vehicle hinges on several legal factors. As previously mentioned, The Emergency Vehicle Code, specifically California Vehicle Code Section 21806, dictates the right-of-way rules for drivers encountering emergency vehicles using lights and sirens. While emergency vehicles have exemptions from certain traffic laws during responses, negligence on their part can still be considered. California's comparative negligence system allocates responsibility among parties involved, potentially affecting compensation. The statute of limitations sets a time limit for filing claims, and governmental immunity could play a role, given that government agencies are generally protected but with exceptions. Effective evidence gathering, including police reports, witness statements, and medical records, is pivotal. In complex cases, expert testimony might be required to establish events and injuries. Consulting with a skilled California personal injury attorney is essential for navigating this intricate legal landscape, as they can provide personalized guidance based on the specifics of the incident and jurisdiction.

Gavel and block with a thought bubble on top
Photo by eskay lim on Unsplash


When emergency vehicles are involved in car accidents, they are often the ones who get sued in court. However, this isn't always the case. Sometimes, a driver who is driving another vehicle can be at fault. If you or someone you love has been hurt by an emergency vehicle, you should contact a personal injury lawyer right away.

Contact the top accident lawyers in Los Angeles in Mendez and Sanchez Law. Our attorneys and team members are here to help you through the difficult legal landscape as we pursue the compensation you deserve. Please contact us for your Personal Injury, Auto Accident, Workers' Compensation, Slip and Fall, or other legal needs today!


1. What should I do if I'm involved in an accident with an emergency vehicle?

If you're in a collision with an emergency vehicle while it's responding to an emergency, prioritize safety. Check for injuries, move to a safe location if possible, exchange information, document the scene, notify authorities, cooperate with law enforcement, seek medical attention, contact your insurance company, and consider consulting a legal professional if needed.

2. What actions can impact my case after colliding with an emergency vehicle?

Your case's strength depends on factors like violations of traffic laws, negligence, proper use of lights and sirens, proximate cause, injuries, and damages. If these elements suggest the emergency vehicle was at fault and led to your injuries or damages, you may have a case for seeking compensation.

3. What are some specific laws in California regarding emergency vehicle collisions?

California's "Move Over" Law requires drivers to change lanes for parked emergency vehicles with flashing lights. If this isn't possible, drivers should slow down and proceed cautiously. California Vehicle Code Section 21806 outlines right-of-way rules for emergency vehicles using lights and sirens. These include yielding, stopping at intersections, not obstructing paths, and exemptions for certain vehicles.

4. How can I identify different types of emergency vehicles on the road?

Stay attentive, learn siren sounds, recognize visual cues, follow traffic rules, and remain calm. Police cars use red, blue, and white lights, ambulances have bright colors and reflective markings with wailing sirens, and fire trucks employ red lights and yelping sirens.

5. What factors should I consider if I'm uncertain whether I have a case after an emergency vehicle collision?

Evaluate violations of traffic laws, negligence, proper use of lights and sirens, proximate cause, injuries, and damages. Consult with a personal injury attorney familiar with your jurisdiction's laws to determine the strength of your potential claim and understand your rights.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Tell Mendez & Sanchez About Your Case.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Text UsCall Us
        Available 24/7  |  Hablamos Español
Chamber of Commerce Badge