Local

Drivers, what do you do when you see an emergency vehicle?

File: A security guard stops pedestrian traffic for an approaching fire truck on Hollywood Boulevard where preparations were being made for the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures And Lucasfilm's
File: A security guard stops pedestrian traffic for an approaching fire truck on Hollywood Boulevard where preparations were being made for the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures And Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" on December 13, 2015 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.
David McNew/Getty Images

Pop quiz: When you're driving along and you hear sirens and see flashing lights, what do you do? No, you don’t keep the speedometer above 50 mph. You slow down and move to the right.

It’s something anyone with a license should probably have learned when studying for their driving test. When drivers fail to heed those sirens, they can slow down police and fire department vehicles and even cause traffic accidents.

That’s a big part of the message L.A. police officials were pushing Wednesday when they announced a new public outreach campaign called “Move to the Right.”

“It is imperative that all drivers quickly and collectively clear the way when being approached by emergency vehicles,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a written statement. “In life or death situations, every second counts.”

The city’s traffic-choked streets already present a challenge to emergency responders, so it’s easy to see how cars not making way could make navigating them an even bigger nightmare for officers and firefighters on calls.

In its statement, the LAPD points to a 2012 L.A. Times story about poor response times from the city’s fire department. What they don’t say is that the fire chief at the time blamed budget cuts, or that the Times investigation looked at dispatch operators’ role in the lag time and at how where you live could result in vastly different response times.

Still, the message couldn’t be clearer: when every second counts, getting stuck behind an obstinate motorist could mean someone dies. The LAPD also suggested that the problem is getting worse, citing a statistic that collisions with emergency vehicles have increased 20 percent since 2014.

If the potential impact on human life isn’t enough, failing to move over when an emergency vehicle approaches is a ticketable offense. So just move to the right, says LAPD Officer Mike Lopez.

“Until you stop hearing those sirens, and until you can see that those lights are completely clear away from you, that’s when you proceed,” Lopez tells KPCC.

On L.A. streets, it might be so congested that it seems impossible to comply, but the message remains: everyone should still make an effort to move to the right.

“Now if you’re in the far left lane and there’s no cars anywhere around," Lopez says, "you have to make your best judgment in that, and say, ‘OK, there’s no other cars around, so I’m going to just probably stay put right here and let this emergency vehicle go right by me.' But if there’s quite a few cars, everyone needs to know to move to the right and move out of the way.”

The new outreach program involves placing billboards and banners around the city and announcements at gas pumps that have been outfitted with screens.

Clear Channel Outdoor, a major sign company, and Gas Station TV, which puts those screens at the pump, are helping the LAPD spread the message. That means you may hear that reminder next time you refill your tank.