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Drivers fail to pull over for emergency vehicles

In an emergency, every second counts, and every day the public plays a role in how quickly fire trucks, ambulances and police cars get to the scene.

It’s the law to pull over for an emergency vehicle that has its lights and sirens on.

For several days, ABC 17 sent cameras on board Columbia fire trucks as they responded to calls. On average, firefighters in Columbia respond to more than one call every hour. Their average response time is just over seven minutes from the time the 911 call is received. They are always working to cut down that time.

While firefighters have their routes mapped out across the city, they can’t always plan for traffic and how drivers will respond.

The footage that ABC 17 News captured from the trucks shows firsthand the issues that firefighters deal with, from, a pedestrian trying to cross the street in front of a blaring truck, to an intersection where drivers heading the opposite way were in the way. In one clip, a car was seen not pulling over for a couple of blocks, even as firefighters arrived at the destination. And in all these calls, the lights and sirens were on.

Columbia fire officials say such issues happen often. They think one reason may be that people simply can’t hear the sirens because cars are made better to block out the sound. That issue combined with other distractions like the radio can make it hard to hear the sirens.

Another factor may be that drivers don’t know what to do. Columbia fire officials stress that drivers need to pull over to the right, even if the truck is headed in the opposite direction. That gives the driver of the fire truck more room.

The problem isn’t just limited to firefighters; law enforcement faces the same issue.

While drivers can be ticketed for failing to pull over, it is difficult to issue those tickets when first responders are on their way to an emergency.

In 2014, Columbia police issued seven city charge citations for this violation and 10 state charge citations.

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