The siren and the strobes are on for a very important reason – it is to warn other road users to take notice and give way to these emergency service vehicles to move faster and reach their destinations as quickly as possible.
First Encounter with Emergency Services
When I started driving a car, one of the first things I had to get used is to driving in the city traffic jam which can be stressful and tiring. Back then, working in the city centre meant one cannot run away from the morning and the evening traffic jams which are why I used to ride a motorcycle for almost 15 years before getting myself a car.
When you are stuck in a traffic jam and the traffic is not moving, you can’t do much. You can’t move unless the car in front moves. It gets worse when it rains and some part of KL gets flooded.
Then one day stuck in a traffic jam, I heard the ambulance siren. It was some cars behind me and was slowly inching towards the front. The traffic in front started to move a bit but not far enough. Then something fantastic happened.
The driver of the car in front of me put on his indicators and turned his car to the right. The car on his left did the same and turned to the left. Everyone started to do the same. With space now in front of me, I basically copied the same and soon there was enough space in between the 2 cars for the ambulance to squeeze through.
The funny thing was, despite the traffic jam and the stress, once the emergency service vehicle passed through, I had this overwhelming feeling of being proud and sense of accomplishment. I was proud of the other road users who have done their part to get the ambulance to reach the hospital as quickly as possible.
(Even during a massive protest like this in Hong Kong, emergency service vehicles are respected and given the highest priority. The protesters simply parted to give way to the ambulance. Image source: Reddit)
Personal Experience with Emergency Service Vehicle
Personally, I have never ridden in an ambulance in an emergency. The last time I had to be rushed to the hospital for food poisoning, my sister sends me to the hospital in her car. Other times, my wife would drive me to the hospital if I could not drive myself.
However, there were 2 instances when we had to get an ambulance to rush my late Dad to the hospital – once when he complained of breathing difficulties and another when he was involved in a bad traffic accident.
In the first instance, he was at home and he started to have difficulties breathing. I was away working and it was up to my wife to handle this emergency. She quickly got hold of the doctor from the nearby clinic (who usually treat my Dad) to come to the house and check on my Dad.
It was a serious case and the doctor knows that it was not possible to send my Dad to the hospital by car considering the traffic and distance. So the doctor called the ambulance services to pick up my Dad and send him to the hospital.
Remember every second count and it was a good thing that we used the ambulance instead of trying with our car and get stuck in traffic. My Dad was admitted and was in ICU for several days before he recovered.
(When you see this in your mirrors, do you play ignorant and maintain your way and speed or you quickly make way for the ambulance at the back? Image source: Stack Exchange)
When An Ambulance Behind You
Speaking about emergency service vehicles, it is rare that I encounter one when driving in the city. I only encountered police escort a couple of times but usually, I did not have to make way for them because, in the city, the traffic where the police escorts will keep on moving by the traffic police manning the junctions or by the adjusting the duration of the traffic lights.
But now working outside the city and travelling on the key roads with ambulances and fire trucks also use to reach hospitals or other highways, encountering emergency services have become a norm.
And over the years, I have learned to be more alert whenever I hear sirens and quickly gauge on whether I need to move aside from the fast lane or make enough space for the ambulance to travel in between the 2 lanes of the road.
If the traffic is bad and it is not possible to change lane, put on the indictors (so that the ambulance driver is aware that you know that he is coming and had made way for him), move to the right or left as much as possible and stop to let the ambulance to move.
The key thing is that these emergency service vehicles can move as fast as possible – every second count – whether sending a dying patient to the hospital or reaching the house which is on fire or reaching the scene of the crime to apprehend criminals.
Real Case of Malaysian Drivers Respecting Emergency Services
Generally, Malaysian drivers respect emergency service vehicles and often will do their very best to make way for these vehicles. I have seen and experience it myself many times. Kudos to all those drivers who make the effort to respect and ensure they make way for the emergency service vehicles.
However, nothing is perfect considering we have another breed of drivers who uses the emergency lanes on the highways as their private road despite it is illegal for them to be driving on it.
Rule 53(1) of the Road Traffic Rules 1959 states that driving in the emergency lane is an offence and is punishable under Section 119(2) of the Road Transport Act 1987 with a fine of up to RM2000, or up to 6 months in jail.
The lane is called the “emergency lane” for a reason – it is only be used for emergencies (such as breakdowns) or by the emergency service vehicles. It is not meant to be used as another lane for the cars to overtake the traffic jams.
Some of these drivers do it on a regular basis, to a point; they don’t give a second thought that they are indeed blocking the emergency service vehicles. It is a different story if they have a police car at their back.
The worse ones would be those who are on emergency lanes and have an ambulance or fire-truck right at their end but still refuses to make way for these vehicles.
Sample of First World Mentality
This is a case of first world mentality from the Germans (who else?) when it comes to giving way to the emergency service vehicles. You have a clear line of space for the emergency service vehicles and all other cars just stop at their track.
This is another one from South Korea when an accident happened in a tunnel and the drivers themselves organised their cars so that the emergency service vehicles can reach the accident victims without any delays.
I have watched Youtube videos of Indonesians praising Malaysian drivers giving ways to ambulances and compare it with the situation in Indonesia which is even worse. I watched one incident where a policeman even stopped an ambulance at a busy junction to let another side of traffic to go.
A few Indonesians motorcyclists even start to argue with the policeman to let the ambulance to go through but the policeman. Other video shows motorists purposely blocking ambulances and some even picking up a fight with the ambulance drivers.
A classic third-world mentality – this is not only evident in Indonesia but also in Malaysia (although it is not as chronic as Indonesia) and many Asian countries. Some have resorted to having motorcycle escorts to assist them to wade through the madness.
Put yourself or your family members in the shoes of the patients in the ambulance or the accident victim trapped in a burning car waiting for the fire truck to come over to rescue you. I am pretty sure that whatever “personal emergency” that you may have, nothing beats rushing someone to the hospital.
You will realise how frustrating it will be when you put a bunch of selfish drivers who not only don’t move to give way but block on purpose these life-saving heroes from reaching you. Always respect and give high priority to these emergency service vehicles.
And on those stubborn drivers who bent on using the emergency lane to queue jump the traffic jam and in turn block emergency service vehicles, they should be arrested and sentenced to long term imprisonment. Obviously heavy fines have not woken these drivers from their selfish slumber sleep.
Before I sign off, I like to wish everyone Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. The year 2020 generally has not been a good year considering the global pandemic and the mess politically. Hopefully, next year would be a better year for everyone.