DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Patty Dukes, chief of emergency medical services; Libby Char, director of the city's Emergency Services Department; Mayor Mufi Hannemann; HPD Assistant Chief Bryan Wauke; and HFD Deputy Chief Alvin Tomita discuss emergency vehicles' right-of-way on the roads. CLICK FOR LARGE
Ad campaign asks drivers to move aside
City officials hope to keep the way clear for emergency vehicles
With a high volume of emergency calls flowing in and drivers unsure of what to do when they hear approaching sirens, the city announced a public awareness campaign yesterday to remind motorists of proper procedures.
The campaign, called "Please Abide, Move Aside," is intended to remind drivers to give the right-of-way to emergency vehicles with their lights flashing and sirens blaring.
"It's all about making sure that people understand emergency vehicles have the priority when they're traveling along our roadways and highways," said Mayor Mufi Hannemann at a press conference yesterday.
Many times, drivers panic or don't follow laws when they see an emergency vehicle approaching. They stop in front of ambulances or fire trucks or in the middle of intersections. Some won't stop at all. Others break the law by tailgating after them.
"I think most people understand when they hear the siren or see the lights, they intend to get out of the way," said city Emergency Services Department Director Elizabeth Char. "They're not really sure how to do that."
Honolulu Police Department Assistant Chief Bryan Wauke said there are no plans to increase enforcement of the law, and he noted that the focus is on the public education part of the campaign.
Last year, the police issued 18 tickets to drivers failing to yield and 21 tickets for people following emergency vehicles too closely. Fines are $97.
The law states that drivers, other than those on official business, can't follow any emergency vehicle within 500 feet.
Honolulu Deputy Fire Chief Alvin Tomita said it's most frustrating for firefighters when cars stop directly in front of their fire trucks.
"What they're doing is blocking traffic, essentially," Tomita said. "Many times, we have more than one apparatus following each other. They're back to back and they're all stopped because of one vehicle."
The city Emergency Medical Services department received nearly 80,000 calls last year and responded to about 67,000, Hannemann said. "Every second counts when a life is at stake," he added.
Wauke said the first step is to pay attention while driving. He advises drivers to turn down their stereo and don't listen to their iPods using their earbuds so they can hear sirens approaching.
That also includes not text-messaging or talking on the phone, eating or applying makeup.
Char also warns motorists to look around when they hear sirens because there may be more than one emergency vehicle approaching.
And if drivers don't know where to pull over, such as if they're in the middle lane of a highway, the best hint is to look in the rearview mirror.
"Look at which way traffic is opening up behind you," he said. "If it's opening up to the right, it's probably best not to block the right side."
Hannemann said this campaign is also a good way to remind drivers to be more cautious on the road in general.
"We know we've seen a rash of pedestrians who have been put in harm's way as a result of reckless driving," he said. "It is a goal of our city and our first family of responders to keep the public safe. We're asking for everyone's cooperation in this."
'SIREN' helps drivers be aware
In its public awareness campaign, "Please Abide, Move Aside," the city offers these tips, which spell out SIREN, for drivers when yielding to an emergency vehicle.
» Stay alert: Keep the volume of your stereo down in your car. When you hear sirens, look in all directions in case more than one emergency vehicle is approaching.
» Investigate: Estimate the closing speed of the emergency vehicle, check your rearview mirror and all directions to plan your next move.
» React: Don't panic. Scan all directions before pulling over, and always use your turn signal.
» Enter: Wait until the emergency vehicle passes completely. Look in all directions, turn on your signal and gradually merge back into traffic.
» Never: Don't stop in the middle of intersections or in a place without enough room to pull over. Also, don't follow too closely, tailgate or try to outrun the emergency vehicle.
Source: City Emergency Services Department