I was driving along through town the other day, and as I approached some traffic lights, the lady in the car in front of me appeared to look down at her handbrake area and pick something up, then she suddenly braked and stopped. I assumed she was pulling over to answer her phone. Seeing that it would not be easy to get past her, I sat there waiting for her to move on again, but when she didn’t I checked my side mirror, gave her a beep and managed to manoeuvre past, raising my hand at her to indicate my displeasure at her failure to indicate. To my surprise her face was contorted with anger and she gestured back with equal force. What was her problem?

It was only when again checking my rear view mirror after getting past her that I noticed an ambulance – blue lights only, no sirens – gradually bearing down on us from some distance behind. So before it reached me I pulled to the side and let it past. Meanwhile, the lady I had squeezed past, fury still etched on her face, raced to catch up and started giving me V signs and mouthing obscenities at me from behind. I held up my hand to apologise but that did not placate her. She tailgated me then when I finally turned left she roared past in a red mist as though trying to catch Lewis Hamilton.

Let’s rewind: the over-angry lady had clearly glanced in her rear view mirror and noticed the distant flicker of blue lights about half a mile behind her. Rather than carrying on until the ambulance was a bit closer, she had suddenly pulled up way before she needed to, even though the road was wider a few hundred yards further on. Presumably her simultaneous rummage around as though looking for a phone was just coincidental. What was I supposed to do? I had heard no siren to alert me and so my attention was focused on her behaviour in front of me as I had been forced to brake suddenly. She did not seem to comprehend that I may not at that instant have also noticed the distant ambulance behind me.

It led me to wonder what the correct etiquette is in these circumstances. How soon do you pull over when you notice an emergency vehicle coming up behind you? Does the lack of any audible warning when approaching traffic mean that the ambulance is not in quite such a hurry? You do see a lot of drivers who develop ‘rabbit in headlights’ syndrome when an emergency services vehicle is bearing down on them and manage to get in the way rather than out of it.  For most drivers, though, common sense comes into play and you pull over in the most appropriate place, at the appropriate time. It is just a shame that you can’t always teach common sense.

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