A recent newspaper article about a jury trial in Cass County prompts this explanation of emergency vehicle operations.
The subject of the trial was an incident where a driver struck a police patrol car parked at the scene of a stalled vehicle. The article referenced the defense's argument that the police officer's vehicle was improperly parked upon the roadway. With some frequency, the police department also is contacted by members of the public who make similar statements. While the action normally may have been considered a violation, there are provisions in the law to allow operators of emergency vehicles limited deviation to the standard.
Under North Dakota Century Code, emergency vehicles are allowed to commit a violation when it is necessary to carry out an official function. The provision does not remove the requirement of the emergency vehicle driver to act in a reasonable manner. An excerpt from the law defines an emergency vehicle as:
"Class A" authorized emergency vehicles means:
(1) Vehicles of a governmentally owned fire department.
(2) Vehicles when operated by or under the control of a police officer having authority to enforce the provisions of this title or by a salaried employee of a municipal police department within the municipality or by a sheriff or deputy sheriff not including special deputy sheriffs, or by the director of the department of corrections and rehabilitation and the director's authorized agents who have successfully completed training in the operation of class A authorized emergency vehicles.
The rules that govern the operation of an emergency vehicle are as follows:
39-10-03. Class A authorized emergency vehicles.
1. The driver of a class A authorized emergency vehicle may:
a. Park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of this chapter.
b. Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation.
c. Exceed the speed limit so long as the driver does not endanger life or property.
d. Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.
2. The exceptions herein granted to a class A authorized emergency vehicle apply only:
a. When the authorized emergency vehicle is in pursuit of or apprehension of a violator or a suspected violator requiring the use of these exemptions.
b. When the class A authorized emergency vehicle is being operated in response to a reported emergency involving a possible personal injury, death, or damage to property, and when giving adequate warning by use of a flashing red or combination red and white lights that are visible under normal atmospheric conditions for at least five hundred feet [152.4 meters] and if appropriate, giving audible signal by siren or airhorn. A law enforcement vehicle that is otherwise a class A authorized emergency vehicle may display a flashing blue light in addition to and under the same conditions as the other colors allowed in this subdivision.
c. In any instance when the head of a law enforcement agency deems advisable within the area of that person's jurisdiction for the protection of person and property and when giving audible signal by siren or when giving adequate warning by use of a flashing red or combination red and white lights which are visible under normal atmospheric conditions for at least five hundred feet [152.4 meters]. A law enforcement vehicle that is otherwise a class A authorized emergency vehicle may display a flashing blue light in addition to and under the same conditions as the other colors allowed in this subdivision.
3. An emergency vehicle may not display or permit to be displayed any red lamp except when operated on official business.
4. Any law enforcement officer as provided in paragraph 2 of subdivision a of subsection 2 of section 39-01-01 having stopped another vehicle along a highway, and while still involved in that incident, or any other related activity, may use amber lights, visible under normal atmospheric conditions for at least five hundred feet [152.4 meters], for the purpose of maintaining traffic flow.
The news article indicated the crash occurred during a winter snow event resulting in limited visibility for the driver. As a result of the accident the driver had been charged with reckless driving.
39-08-03. Reckless driving - Aggravated reckless driving - Penalty. Any person is guilty of reckless driving if the person drives a vehicle:
1. Recklessly in disregard of the rights or safety of others; or
2. Without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or the property of another. Except as otherwise herein provided, any person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a class B misdemeanor. Any person who, by reason of reckless driving as herein defined, causes and inflicts injury upon the person of another, is guilty of aggravated reckless driving, and is guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
The driver of a motor vehicle is responsible to maintain control and operate their vehicle in a manner which is safe for the existing conditions. Restricted visibility as the result of snow, rain, smoke, dust or even darkness may require you to drive at speeds less than the posted limit. A rough road surface, loose material, ice, mud or other debris on the roadway should also be cause for you to slow down. Driving at unsafe speeds denies you the ability to control your vehicle and react to unexpected hazards. It may also result in you being criminally charged.
Slow down, buckle up and stay alive.