A January 22, 2009 collision between a police cruiser responding to an auto accident and a vehicle driven by an Auburn woman has reminded us of a law little known to most, which limits the unfettered rights of official vehicles responding to an emergency.
While it is well known that laws require driver’s to yield to police and other emergency vehicles, few are aware that the responders also have limitations on their rights. Specifically, although permitted to pass through an intersection against a red traffic light or where there is a stop sign, in the interest of avoiding dangerous collisions, the responders are nonetheless required to come to a complete stop before proceeding.
This particular car accident occurred in Sutton, Massachusetts at around 8:45 a.m. when a car collided with a Sutton police cruiser at the intersection of Route 146 and Boston Road. Although the woman was cited for failing to yield, it appears that she was legally passing through the intersection with a green light, and the police cruiser passed through a red light signal.
Apparently, other vehicles were aware of the cruiser and had yielded, but the woman did not. It is assumed she was not aware of the presence of the police car, and the obvious question is whether the cruiser indeed came to a complete stop before proceeding through the intersection.
If it is determined that the officer did not completely stop before proceeding, he violated a Massachusetts statute, G.L. c.89, §7B, entitled Operation of emergency vehicles , which states in part:
….that the driver of a vehicle of a police or recognized protective department or the driver of an ambulance, in an emergency and while in performance of a public duty or while transporting a sick or injured person to a hospital or other destination where professional medical services are available, may drive such vehicle …through an intersection of ways contrary to any traffic signs or signals regulating traffic at such intersection if he first brings such vehicle to a full stop and then proceeds with caution and due regard for the safety of persons and property…
As a practical matter, most of us who drive regularly, and have had occasion to witness emergency responders in action, are well aware that this legal restraint on official behavior is rarely observed. Usually, the responders rolls through the intersection on the expectation that their presence is known, and if not, driver beware.
This firm has represented an individual in just such a situation who was struck by a Boston Police Cruiser responding to a shooting. As in the Sutton accident, that driver was also cited, and it was not until cross complaints were filed against the officer that the charges were dismissed. It was evident from investigation of the accident scene that the police cruiser had raced through a stop sign into a main roadway, and hit the unaware driver with sufficient force to move the driver’s vehicle sideways a distance of almost forty (40) feet. Although the police officer denied it, in a subsequent civil jury trial, the driver recovered damages from the City of Boston for his injuries suffered in the accident. The case was Ildo Perez v. City of Boston.
The bottom line is that emergency responders tend to take the attitude that an emergency gives them a license to drive fast, aggressively, and often dangerously. The law clearly states otherwise, mandating that the safety of others be respected, and in particular when there is an intent to run a stop light or stop sign.
If properly respected, this law compelling the emergency responder to stop, observe and then proceed through an intersection, would likely prevent the majority of accidents like the one, which occurred in Sutton yesterday. Sadly, it just doesn’t seem to happen that way, and it is the rare citizen who stands up and points his/her finger back at the official, who was involved in the accident.