Safely Responding to Emergency Vehicle Sirens

“Let them through. Next time, it could be you,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends drivers in regard to emergency vehicles. It’s a striking phrase that teaches drivers the importance of yielding to ambulances, fire engines, police cars and other emergency vehicles.

“Let them through. Next time, it could be you.”

If you’re stopped at a red light with an emergency vehicle behind you that does not have a clear path to pass, you may already know to wait until your traffic light turns green to advance into the intersection and then safely pull over. Do not go through a red light to let an emergency vehicle pass. It’s dangerous to do so and may lead to an accident and another emergency.

But the act of letting an emergency vehicle pass can be easier said than done, especially with weather, traffic and today’s rampant digital distractions. To help drivers remember how to respond, the NHTSA created an easy-to-remember acronym, S-I-R-E-N:

Stay Alert

Drive defensively, keep the noise level down in your car and look for more than one emergency vehicle approaching when you hear a siren.


Check your rear-view mirror, scan in front and on both sides of your vehicle, try to estimate the closing speed of the emergency vehicle and plan your next move.


React quickly, but calmly and scan in all directions before pulling over. Always use a turn signal when exiting the roadway and don’t slam on the brakes or pull over suddenly.


Before re-entering the road, make a visual sweep in all directions, turn on your signal, and gradually merge back into traffic.


Don’t stop at a place that doesn’t have enough room to pull over safely and never follow or try to outrun an emergency vehicle.