Delay Can Mean the Difference Between Life and Death

27 Sept 2019

When casualties need to be rescued, every second counts. However, the speed with which rescue services reach the scene of a serious accident on the highway also depends on whether drivers in the traffic jam respond to the situation correctly.

Police and rescue services see the following scenario play out on Germany’s highways time and time again: When a traffic jam has formed after an accident, it is often not possible to get through because drivers are blocking the rescue corridor. An analysis carried out by the German Red Cross revealed that forming a rescue corridor does not work in around 80 percent of cases, even decades after it was introduced. In 20 percent of the cases analyzed, drivers also failed to react to the sirens and blue lights of the emergency services. “Any delay in rescuing vehicle occupants following serious traffic accidents can mean the difference between life and death,” says DEKRA accident researcher Markus Egelhaaf. “When drivers form a rescue corridor at the right time, they not only increase the chances of survival for the casualties, but are also doing themselves a favor because they are ultimately facilitating the scene of the accident being cleared more quickly too.”
In sluggish traffic on highways – as well as on roads outside urban areas with at least two lanes in one direction – German road traffic regulations therefore require that a rescue corridor be formed to enable police and emergency vehicles to reach the scene of the accident unhindered. The position of the rescue corridor is also clearly regulated. Where there are two lanes, the corridor in the middle must be kept clear; where there are three or more lanes, the corridor is between the lane on the far left and the adjoining lane. A look at the back of the right hand can serve as a memory aid, with the gap between the thumb and the index finger representing the position of the rescue corridor.
“However, it is important that drivers do not wait until the traffic is stationary to react, but do so while the vehicles are still moving. At a standstill, there often isn’t enough room to move the vehicle far enough over to the side,” says Egelhaaf. That is why drivers should already be keeping to the right or left and maintaining the necessary distance from the vehicle in front when the traffic is moving slowly, while keeping the breakdown lane clear. They should also refrain from trying to quickly change lanes before the traffic comes to a halt as the risk of being stranded in the middle of the rescue corridor is simply too high.
The rescue corridor is to be used exclusively by police and emergency vehicles. All other vehicles are prohibited from passing through it, and the sanctions for doing so have been made significantly tougher. Any driver who fails to form a rescue corridor now faces a minimum of a EUR 200 fine and two penalty points on the German Federal Register of Driver Fitness as a set tariff. For blocking the rescue corridor and causing a hindrance, hazard or damage to property, the fine may be increased to as much as EUR 320 plus a driving ban and two penalty points on the Federal Register of Driver Fitness. Furthermore, criminal proceedings with consequences up to and including jail sentences are possible for drivers who intentionally block a rescue corridor or impede those who are trying to provide assistance in the event of an accident, for example.
Forming a rescue corridor is mandatory in other European countries such as Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Slovenia as well. The regulations in these countries are identical to those in Germany. In France and Spain, drivers must allow emergency vehicles to get past them to the scene of the accident. In the Netherlands and Italy, there are no special regulations. In the USA and Canada, move over laws govern how drivers should react in a traffic jam. They state that drivers must move into an adjacent lane and slow down – when possible and safe to do so.