Ohio Law Sets Standards for Drivers of Fire Trucks and Ambulances

​​Drivers of fire trucks and ambulances are exempted from traffic rules, including posted speed limits, when on emergency calls, as long as they display their emergency lights and use their sirens. However, drivers are not relieved of their “duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons and property on the highway.”

Q: Does Ohio law require the driver of an ambulance or fire truck to stop at red lights and stop signs while on an emergency run?
A: No. When responding to an emergency call, the ambulance or fire truck driver must “slow down as necessary for safety to traffic” when approaching a stop sign or red light. The driver can, however, proceed past a stop sign or red light with “due regard for the safety of all persons using the street or highway.” (Ohio Revised Code 4511.03, http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/4511.03.) 

Q: If on an emergency call, can an ambulance or fire truck driver pass a stopped school bus while children are being loaded or unloaded?
A: No. Like all other drivers, the driver of an ambulance or fire truck must stop for school buses. The emergency vehicle driver should not pass the school bus until the bus driver confirms that all children are safely out of the way and either shuts off the school bus lights or waves the emergency vehicle driver to pass.

Q: What are some traffic laws that don’t apply to a fire truck or ambulance driver on an emergency call?
A: There are numerous traffic laws that do not apply, including the laws against crossing double yellow lines and traveling the wrong way down a one-way street. However, Ohio law requires operators of emergency vehicles to drive with “due regard for the safety of all persons and property upon the highway.”

Q: Can a township, city, village or other political subdivision be held liable if there is proof that an emergency vehicle operator drove recklessly and caused an accident?
A: Yes, if the emergency vehicle operator is proven to be driving recklessly. The emergency driver, however, cannot be held personally liable unless proof of willful or wanton misconduct.
The Supreme Court of Ohio in 2012 held in Anderson v. Massillon, 134 Ohio St.3d 380, 2012-Ohio-5711: “Reckless conduct is characterized by the conscious disregard of or indifference to a known or obvious risk of harm to another that is unreasonable under the circumstances and is substantially greater than negligent conduct.” (Para. 34). “R.C. 2744.03(A)(6)(b) provides immunity to employees of a political subdivision for acts that are not committed in a wanton or reckless manner.” (Para. 39) (www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2012/2012-ohio-5711.pdf )

The videoof the Massillon Fire Department crash (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ga_vHeGYQ34​) shows how important it is for civilian drivers to use extreme caution before proceeding after stopping for emergency vehicles. ​


This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Lawrence T. Bennett, Esq., program chair, Fire Science & Emergency Management, University of Cincinnati. 

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.



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