Drivers who block first responders deserve jail

Michigan lawmakers want to make it harder to ignore the lights and sirens of emergency vehicles by imposing criminal penalties. If only the threat of jail or prison were enough, we’d applaud the measures.

What the law requires is every driver pull to the side of the road, clear of an intersection, and stop when approached by an emergency vehicle using its flashing lights and siren. The stopped vehicle must stay stopped until the emergency vehicle has passed.

Frighteningly, the number of drivers who comply with the law seems to be a diminishing minority. Most simply ignore emergency vehicles and proceed on their way as if their destination is more important than that the passing ambulance or firetruck. Too many others behave as if they’ve never encountered an emergency vehicle before and perform a variety of erratic and hazardous maneuvers instead of pulling over and stopping. And stop means stop, not slide over a little and slow down.

Let’s review: Move over to the edge of the roadway, clear the intersection, stop and wait.

Bills 421 and 422 passed the Michigan Senate almost unanimously and now are under consideration by the Committee on Criminal Justice in the house.

Under current law, ignoring the lights and sirens is a civil infraction, meaning violators can be ticketed and fined. We’d be pleasantly surprised to see a dangerous scofflaw ticketed for once.

The bills would criminalize the behavior.

A driver who failed to yield to an emergency vehicle would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could be punished by a maximum fine of $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

A driver whose failure to yield results in an injury to a police officer, firefighter or other emergency responder would be guilty of a felony, punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to two years in prison. Causing the death of a first responder by failing to share the road would be a punishable with a $7,500 fine and up to 15 years in prison.

We would hope that adding serious penalties for ignoring emergency vehicles would prompt more drivers to recognize they share the road with others, including some whose destinations — fires, medical emergencies, crimes in progress — really are more important and more urgent than theirs.