Unlawfully Passing an Emergency Vehicle in Charlotte, NC Currently in Charlotte, North Carolina it is extremely common to be pulled over for not switching lanes when a police officer has someone pulled over on the side of the road. We get numerous calls each week by individuals who have been pulled over for staying in the lane nearest to the location where a law enforcement officer has pulled over someone. It usually happens on a highway (I-485, I-85 or I-77) and when people call us, they express that they did not know they were required to take certain actions around emergency vehicles. Since we have seen so many of these citations, we wanted to explain what is exactly required when you see an emergency vehicle on the roadways throughout North Carolina.

The statute that requires a driver to take specific actions around emergency vehicles is North Carolina General Statute 20-157. It is a broad statute and covers a variety of activity, but the most common offenses are as follows:

  • N.C.G.S. § 20-157 (a) – This is the scenario when you are driving down the road and an ambulance or fire truck quickly approaches with their lights and sirens on. You are required to pull over and stop your vehicle to allow for safe passage of the emergency vehicle. Failure to do so will result in you being cited for a class 2 misdemeanor. N.C.G.S. § 20-157 (a) requires a driver to move over and stop their vehicle in almost all circumstances. The only situation where you are not required to stop and pull over is if you are traveling in the opposite direction on a four-lane road divided by a permanent barrier. On top of being a class 2 misdemeanor, this violation come with a $250 fine.
  • N.C.G.S. § 20-157 (f) – This is the most common offense under this statute. This scenario is when you are traveling on a street or highway and the police officer has someone pulled over on the right shoulder. N.C.G.S. § 20-157 (f) requires a person approaching an emergency vehicle, with lights flashing, to move over into the next lane (the lane that is not nearest to the traffic stop) or, if traveling on a two-lane roadway, to slow down and be prepared to stop. The only exception is if compliance cannot be made safely and without interfering with vehicular traffic (i.e. on an interstate in the far right lane and the traffic in the lane to your left is simply too heavy to allow you to merge into the left lane). However, under the exception where you cannot merge left because of traffic, you are still required to slow the vehicle down and be prepared to stop. This violation is an infraction; however, it also comes with a $250.00 fine.

Punishment Enhancements – Under N.C.G.S. § 20-157

If you fail to move over and cause injury or property damage the punishment will be elevated to a class 1 misdemeanor, or worse, a class I Felony if serious injury or death. The Class I felony conviction would result in a yearlong suspension of your driver’s license; however, you could receive a limited driving privilege.

What is an emergency vehicle?

N.C.G.S. § 20-157 (a) defines an emergency vehicle as any law enforcement or fire department vehicle or public or private ambulance or rescue squad emergency service vehicle, or a vehicle operated by the Division of Marine Fisheries of the Department of Environmental Quality, or the Division of Parks and Recreation of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, or the North Carolina Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services when traveling in response to a fire alarm or other emergency response purpose. That is a lot of vehicles and N.C.G.S. § 20-157 (f) expands the definition to include any public service vehicle or utility vehicle with “amber colored lights,” this likely includes electric, cable and telephone vehicles. In essence, under this statute, if you see a vehicle with flashing lights move over or slow down if you cannot move over.

Have you Received a Traffic Citation in Charlotte, NC?

If you received a traffic citation, you need to speak with an experienced traffic ticket attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charlotte office directly at 980.207.3355 to schedule your free consultation.

Howard W. Long, II
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Charlotte Criminal Defense and DWI Lawyer
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