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Constructing a safe path; Authorities: Don't panic when an emergency vehicle comes up behind you in one-lane zones

Motorists wait to get through a construction zone Tuesday on Highway 22 in Dickinson, leaving no room for emergency vehicles to pass on either side of the one-lane traffic in both directions.

Imagine driving through a construction zone with one lane for both directions. Traffic lines the roads for miles when sirens fill the air, and you look in your rearview mirror to find an ambulance speeding down the highway. But there is one problem: There is no room to move over to let it pass.

Gale Bice of Killdeer was stuck in that situation on Highway 22 between the Dunn/Stark county line and the north edge of Dickinson.

"I couldn't even pull off on the opposite side to give it room, and there was enough traffic behind me that it couldn't pull out anyway," Bice said. "There's just nothing you can do to get out of the way."

Summer is the season of construction with workers renovating sections of the highway in and around Dickinson and Killdeer. The repairs leave challenges for both civilian and emergency motorists.

Drivers should pull over to the right side of the road when possible, said Sgt. Tom Iverson of the North Dakota Highway Patrol in Bismarck.

"However, us as law enforcement and emergency personnel, we need to take into account that that is not always possible on some of these construction zones," he said.

Construction areas can become dangerous because it is a workplace and speeds are reduced, Iverson said. He added drivers don't expect fire trucks, ambulances or patrol cars to come hurtling behind them.

The Dickinson Area Ambulance Service has employees from across the country, which means some of them are used to different rules, Dickinson paramedic Evan Schaible said.

"Some of the bigger cities have their public (drivers) just stop where they are at instead of pull over to the side for their ambulance," he said. "You never know what you are going to see when you come up to a group of people."

The Highway Patrol does not want drivers to panic, which could cause a hazard on roads, Iverson said.

"If it is not possible (to pull over), there are not a whole lot of other options out there," he said. "They would have to continue where they are going and continue with the flow of traffic."

Ambulance staff tries not to use sirens or lights in construction zones on highways to avoid confusion, Schaible said.

Iverson added an officer may maneuver to the other lane to pass vehicles if it can be done safely and workers are not


However, the public should not attempt such a move, even to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle.

"Avoid the escape route by going to the other lane," he said. "They should never go off to the left. Always go off to the right."

Bice said she didn't know what to do, but she was worried about the patient in the ambulance as well.

"I would have hated to be in that ambulance," she said. "You think of the frustration of the ambulance crew because they cannot get their patient to the hospital any faster."

Iverson spoke from experience, adding travelers should be aware of their surroundings by checking their mirrors, scanning roads and keeping the radio turned down.

"Definitely, it is a bad situation all around," Iverson said. "Depending on the situation, time can be of the essence."