By Tara Bailey
-Did you Know?-
If you’re driving down the road and suddenly see flashing blue light in the rearview mirror, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to do.
Do you pull to the side of the road to let the vehicle pass? Do you continue driving without stopping? Alternatively, would you become confused about what flashing blue lights mean? For Pennsylvanians, this situation can be a conundrum.
According to state statute ambulance personnel, volunteer firefighters, certified volunteer search and rescue organization members and owners and handlers of dogs used in tracking humans may each equip one motor vehicle with no more than two flashing or revolving blue lights.
“There is nothing in the motor vehicle code that states motorists should yield to flashing blue lights,” said Crafton Fire Chief Mike Crown. “Nevertheless, it is a courtesy.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s driver manual outlines instructions for motorists to follow when encountering emergency vehicles and situations.
When drivers hear sirens or see a vehicle approaching from any direction with flashing red lights or a combination of red and blue lights, they must pull over to the curb or side of the road and stop.
After that emergency vehicle passes, drivers should keep at least 500 feet away from the emergency vehicle before driving again. Yet the driver manual does not mention protocols for only flashing blue lights.
Current motor code states that a volunteer firefighter may, with the permission of a commanding officer and written notification of the state police, equip their privately owned vehicle with a blue flashing light.
“In Crafton, we prohibit the use of blue lights because our neighborhood is close in proximity and our volunteer firefighters do not need blue lights on personal vehicles," said Crown. “This prevents our volunteers and fire department from having liability.”
Emergency vehicles or personal vehicles with flashing blue lights are not exempt from obeying traffic laws.
Firefighters in the City of Pittsburgh use red lights. Deputy Chief Michael Mullen of Fire Station 31 in Sheraden, said the city uses red lights because of a law stating the combination of red and blue lights can only be used by police, sheriff, coroner, and medical examiner or fire vehicles.
Mullen also explained the reasoning behind the positioning of blue and red lights on a police vehicle.
“If the red light is on the driver’s side of the police vehicle, visually it means the car is going in the opposite direction of the driver,” said Mullen. “If a motorist looks in the rearview mirror and the red light is on the left side, it means the police vehicle is going in the same direction as the driver.”
Mullen advises motorists to yield for blue lights at all times.
“If motorists refuse to yield to blue lights, it could cause harm. So people should be considerate.”