Emergency Red Light Policies

Emergency red light policies are designed to protect the public.

Emergency response vehicles must sometimes disregard red traffic lights and other traffic laws to get to an emergency scene fast. Emergency red light policies vary between cities, states and local agencies.

Red Lights

Most policies allow an emergency responder such as police, firefighters and ambulances to proceed through a red light or stop sign. The emergency vehicle may be required to stop completely at a red light for safety reasons. In New York State for example, an ambulance has no absolute right of way. The right of way is qualified by it being able to proceed in a safe manner.


The driver of the emergency vehicle must consider the safety of all the people involved when going through a red light. The driver must balance the importance of getting to a destination quickly against the possible harm to innocent bystanders.


Emergency vehicles may cause accidents by passing through red lights. The New York State Department of Motor Vehicle statistics indicate that 75 percent of emergency vehicle accidents could be prevented if the vehicles stopped at red lights or controlled intersections.

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