In Case of Traffic Jam, Form Rescue Lane!

In 1963, 26-year-old police officer Karl-Heinz Kalow proposed rescue lane legislation to the German authorities. In 1971, the corresponding law entered force. We provide an overview of how the rescue lane works both in Germany and other countries around the world.

According to a recent evaluation by the German Red Cross, the rescue lane still fails to work in approximately 80 percent of cases, Photo: Michael Stach

According to a recent evaluation by the German Red Cross, the rescue lane still fails to work in approximately 80 percent of cases, Photo: Michael Stach

In a standstill on the freeway, it’s often practically impossible for emergency services to get through. Yet it isn’t just the congestion that presents an obstacle – some motorists attempt to escape the traffic with daring and irresponsible maneuvers, clogging the emergency lane and endangering both themselves and other road users. Decades after its introduction, the rescue lane still fails to work in approximately 80 percent of cases, according to a recent evaluation by the German Red Cross. Even sirens and flashing lights are unable to help the emergency services – in 20 percent of cases assessed, drivers failed to react at all, impeding quick access to the scene of the accident. Every second is critical for an injured person.

In Germany, the formation of a rescue lane is legally mandated under the Road Traffic Act. Cars in the left lane must pull to the left, with all other vehicles pulling over to the right. “It is important to form a rescue lane even as traffic is slowing down,” says DEKRA Accident Researcher Markus Egelhaaf. “It‘s almost impossible to do so once stationary.” It is also important to keep sufficient distance to the car in front, so as to enable additional maneuvering. “Only when traffic starts flowing again may the rescue lane may be abandoned.”

Establishing a rescue lane is also compulsory in other European countries. These include, for example, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Slovenia. The corresponding legislation in these countries is identical to that of Germany. In France and Spain, motorists must give emergency vehicles the opportunity to pass them as they head to the scene of the accident. There are no specific regulations in Italy and the Netherlands.

The Right-Hand Rule: In Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other countries with right-hand traffic, the right-hand rule helps to know where the rescue lane should be opened. One’s thumb represents the left-hand lane, vehicles in which must pull aside to the left. One’s other fingers represent the other lanes. The gap between thumb and forefinger represents the rescue lane. Illustration: Michael Stach

The Right-Hand Rule: In Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other countries with right-hand traffic, the right-hand rule helps to know where the rescue lane should be opened. One’s thumb represents the left-hand lane, vehicles in which must pull aside to the left. One’s other fingers represent the other lanes. The gap between thumb and forefinger represents the rescue lane. Illustration: Michael Stach

Attentiveness is key

In the US and Canada, “Move Over Laws” regulate how one should respond in the event of a traffic jam. They state that every driver, if it is possible and safe, must move out of the way into an adjacent lane and slow down. Each state regulates itself as to whether the law is applied, and as to how much one should slow down. In most cases, drivers should drive 15 to 20 miles per hour slower than the specified maximum speed. Only in the District of Columbia in the US and Yukon in Canada is there no “Move Over Law.” In China, the creation of a rescue lane is also not legally mandated. According to DEKRA Road Safety Specialist Yu Wang, the emergency services must rely on drivers’ attention.

“On New Zealand’s predominantly single-lane roads, vehicles pull over to each side of the road in order to let emergency services vehicles pass,” says James Law, Operations Support Manager at New Zealand testing organization and DEKRA subsidiary Vehicle Testing New Zealand (VTNZ). In urban centers, lanes reserved for public transport may also be used by the emergency services.

In order to make motorists more aware of their obligation to form a rescue lane for emergency services and rescue vehicles, the reminder to form a rescue lane in congestion can often be seen on bridges or on signs beside German and Austrian highways. Further inducing drivers to abide by the rules, Germany began imposing more severe penalties for impeding res-cue lanes in October 2017. In the future, alternative rescue vehicles may present a solution to helping people injured in an accident faster. This is demonstrated by the rescue sled prototype developed by designers from South Korea.

Within the sled is space for two medics and an assistant, as well as a stretcher. Photo: Median AMB

Within the sled is space for two medics and an assistant, as well as a stretcher. Photo: Median AMB

The Median AMB is a rescue sled that glides along the median strip like a monorail past the traffic. Photo: Median AMB

The Median AMB is a rescue sled that glides along the median strip like a monorail past the traffic. Photo: Median AMB

Vision of the Future: the Median AMB

Four designers from South Korea developed the idea for the so-called Median AMB. The concept revolves around a rescue sled that glides along the median strip like a monorail past the traffic, and is thus able to arrive at the scene of an accident more quickly. Within the sled is space for two medics and an assistant, as well as a stretcher. The injured person can therefore be treated at the scene and transported to the ambulance inside the rescue sled. Sliding doors on both sides allow the first responders to access both carriageways. The designers received the 2018 Red Dot Design Concept Award for their concept. This award is viewed as the international seal of quality for good design, and is conferred in the areas of product design, branding and communications, as well as for new concepts each year.

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