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ARE VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER’S PERSONAL VEHICLES CONSIDERED AUTHORIZED EMERGECNY VEHICLES UNDER NEW YORK LAW?

The simple answer is no. Emergency vehicles in New York are defined as police vehicles or bicycles, ambulances, fire, corrections and civil defense emergency vehicles as well as sanitation patrol vehicles, emergency response vehicles, certain vehicles of the United States Armed forces and hazardous materials emergency vehicles. VTL § 101. Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1104 permits the above mentioned emergency vehicles to disregard certain traffic laws and regulations when involved in an emergency operation. VTL § 1104.

However, with the exception of police vehicles, the other emergency vehicles are only exempt from the traffic laws and regulations if they are traveling with an audible signal as well as at least one red light (if more than one light, at least one must be red) visible from at least 500 feet. VTL § 1104(c). For obvious reasons, police vehicles are exempt from the siren and lighting requirements. The driver of a police vehicle nevertheless still must drive with due care and may not proceed recklessly.

The above listed vehicles found in VTL § 101 are the only emergency vehicles authorized the disregard certain traffic laws and regulations (provided they do so with due care and not in a reckless manner). A member of a local volunteer fire department therefore, may not equip his or her vehicle with lights and sirens and declare it to be an emergency vehicle thus allowing him or her to disregard traffic laws and regulations while traveling to a fire. Nicosia v. Shultis, 239 A.D.2d 473, 658 N.Y.S.2d 640 (2nd Dept. 1997).

If you have been injured in a car accident with an emergency vehicle, contact the law firm of Tilem & Campbell. You should contact an attorney immediately as there are strict time limitations for filing certain necessary documents when you are suing a municipality such as New York City, White Plains, New Rochelle, Pelham, the Village or Town of Mamaroneck or any other municipalities. However, you should know that when involved in an accident with an emergency vehicle travelling to an emergency situation, the driver of that emergency vehicle will not be deemed liable unless he or she operated the emergency vehicle with a reckless disregard for the safety of others. This is a more difficult standard to prove then the mere negligence standard applicable in accidents involving non-emergency vehicles.

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