Drivers aren't yielding to emergency-response vehicles these days. Readers have some ideas.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 2003

TOM: We're still getting mail about emergency vehicles. A few weeks ago, we printed a letter from an EMT who said that drivers just don't get out of the way for ambulances anymore. He blamed it on sound-insulated cars, loud car stereo systems and distracted drivers (talking on cell phones, for instance).

RAY: A number of people have suggested technological fixes:

Dear Tom and Ray:

The solution to the unheard-siren problem is simple. It's the same idea that prevents many rear-end accidents: a brake light at eye level. If car makers would install a bright red light in the center of the instrument panel (after-markets could mount it on the dash) that would flash on and off when an emergency vehicle is within a quarter-mile, the problem would be solved. The light could be hooked up to a radar-detector unit that would pick up the signal, which could only be used by emergency vehicles. A radar gun that could be mounted in a way that would cover 180 degrees in front of the emergency vehicle would do the trick. It would not tell the driver where the emergency vehicle is, but he or she would know that it is coming. -- Tim

RAY: Here's a technology that's in use now in a number of places:

Dear Tom and Ray:

Here in the 'burbs of Minneapolis, we have small, white lights on every traffic signal that light up when emergency vehicles are nearby. I think these contraptions serve a twofold purpose, as the emergency vehicle gets an instant pass (all green lights, all the way), and the other vehicles see the white light and know to look around. -- Dave

TOM: And a lot of responses centered around good old-fashioned law enforcement:

Dear Tom and Ray:

Why not have a camera installed in the grille of the emergency vehicle (these cameras seem to be everywhere, these days)? The camera takes a picture of the back of the vehicle that does not yield -- including, of course, the license plate. A few days later, the offender receives a citation in the mail that should be good for about $100. A couple of those should get the message through even the thickest skull! This approach seems to be having some success with red-light runners. -- Mickey

RAY: And one more semi-high-tech suggestion:

Dear Tom and Ray:

My wife, Wendey, had what Greg the ambulance driver would probably think of as an "effective" idea. A "device" in the ambulance would activate something in the nearby cars. But instead of a warning light, she suggested a buzzer (one like the jokester hand buzzer), mounted in the cushion of the driver's seat, that remains activated as long as the emergency vehicle is in range. Perhaps we could call it the "whoopie cushion emergency system." -- Dave and Wendey

TOM: Someone else wrote to suggest a similar device that would activate people's seat heaters. I guess we'd call that the George Foreman Grill Emergency System.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter