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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Massachusetts Emergency Vehicle Law

Recently a colleague asked me what the law required when an emergency vehicle is traveling on the same road but in the opposite direction.  He was not sure if he had an obligation to pull over to the right if the emergency vehicle had an unobstructed path forward in its lane of travel.  The law does require drivers in the opposite lane of travel to pull over as far to the right as is safely possible even if the emergency vehicle has a clear path forward in the opposite travel lane.  Failure to do so can lead to a fine, jail time, loss of license, and have a significant repercussions on a possible automobile accident claim.

The important law to be aware of is Massachusetts General Law chapter 89 § 7 and §7A.  § 7 is entitled “Right of way of fire engines, patrol vehicles and ambulances; obstruction; penalties” and states:  “The members and apparatus of a fire department while going to a fire or responding to an alarm, police patrol vehicles and ambulances, and ambulances on a call for the purpose of hospitalizing a sick or injured person shall have the right of way through any street, way, lane or alley. Whoever wilfully obstructs or retards the passage of any of the foregoing in the exercise of such right shall be punished by a fine of fifty dollars or by imprisonment for not more than three months for the first offense and by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars or by imprisonment for up to one year for a second and subsequent offenses; provided, however, that for a third or subsequent offense the court or the registry of motor vehicles, in addition to any such fine or imprisonment, may suspend the license of the person so convicted and may order mandatory classroom retraining in motor vehicle and traffic laws.”

Massachusetts General Law chapter 89 § 7A which is entitled “Restrictions on Use of Ways Upon Approach of Emergency Vehicles” states:

“Upon the approach of any fire apparatus, police vehicle, ambulance or disaster vehicle which is going to a fire or responding to call, alarm or emergency situation, every person driving a vehicle on a way shall immediately drive said vehicle as far as possible toward the right-hand curb or side of said way and shall keep the same at a standstill until such fire apparatus, police vehicle, ambulance or disaster vehicle has passed. No person shall drive a vehicle over a hose of a fire department without the consent of a member of such department. No person shall drive a vehicle within three hundred feet of any fire apparatus going to a fire or responding to an alarm, nor drive said vehicle, or park or leave the same unattended, within eight hundred feet of a fire or within the fire lanes established by the fire department, or upon or beside any traveled way, whether public or private, leading to the scene of a fire, in such a manner as to obstruct the approach to the fire of any fire apparatus or any ambulance, safety or police vehicle, or of any vehicle bearing an official fire or police department designation. Authorized police or fire department personnel may tow a vehicle found to be in violation of the provisions of this section or which is illegally parked or standing in a fire lane as established by the fire department, whether or not a fire is in progress, and such personnel shall not be subject to the provisions of section one hundred and twenty D of chapter two hundred and sixty-six. No person shall operate a motor vehicle behind any such fire apparatus, ambulance, safety or police vehicle, or any vehicle bearing an official fire or police department designation which is operating with emergency systems on, for a distance of three hundred feet. Violation of any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars.”

If the possibility of a fine, jail time, or loss of license was nor enough of a deterrent to not break this law, it is also important to note that violation of this law could have a detrimental impact on a potential personal injury claim.  For example, lets say while you proceed to travel forward while an ambulance is coming in the opposite direction, you decide to not pull over.  If, after the ambulance passes, a vehicle that did pull over in front of you pulls back into traffic and hits you, the fact that you did not follow the rules of the statute could come back and haunt you.  While normally the other driver may be negligent because they did not look for oncoming traffic, in this instance they may not have any liability because you violated the above statutes. 

When a person violates one of these emergency vehicle statutes and is then involved in a car accident where another person is injured, the injured person may be able to use the violation of the statute(s) to help prove that the driver was negligent.  Violation of a safety statute can be considered negligence per se, or proof of negligence, for all of the consequences that the law was intended to prevent.  

If you have questions regarding the emergency vehicle statutes or personal injury claims, please contact the Law Offices of Samuel S. Reidy for a free consultation.


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