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More time needed to decide on emergency siren law
A new law requiring emergency vehicles such as ambulances and police cars to sound their sirens at all times of the day when not obeying the Highway Code has been put on hold.
The measure was due to begin on 1 February, but Belgium’s mobility minister Georges Gilkinet said that the proposal needed more analysis before it would, if ever, coming into force.
He said that the idea was "never to force emergency services to use their sirens during interventions".
Gilkinet added: "On the other hand, it is necessary to specify rules when, for example, an intervention vehicle does not respect a ‘priority from the right’ or drives in the wrong direction. Indeed, a modification of the Highway Code introduces doubt on the subject.
"The aim is to strike a balance between rapid intervention and road safety. This requires good coordination with the services concerned, in particular the police, firefighters and paramedics. We need to take the time necessary for this consultation.”
Interior minister Annelies Verlinden agreed, saying that today, emergency services only have to activate their sirens if they go through red lights or to ensure other road users give way to them.
In other cases – exceeding the speed limit or crossing a white line, for example – only blue flashing lights are mandatory.
The Highway Code applies to everyone, but priority vehicles can flash red lights, drive faster or sound their horns or sirens if necessary and if they let other road users know clearly.
Police said the proposed new rule would result in unnecessary noise pollution at night, especially for ambulance emergency callouts to residential areas.
“We are obviously in favour of road safety and traffic violations are only committed when there is no other solution," said Bart Van Thienen, head of Aarschot police zone.
"Sometimes using the siren can be counterproductive, for example in shadowing operations. If patrols have to activate their sirens to cross a white line, they will complicate the task."
The same applies to burglaries. Arriving with flashing lights and a blaring siren would alert the criminals, but also inconvenience all the local residents, without improving road safety.
Notwithstanding, a spokesperson from Gilkinet’s cabinet said that the measure was introduced to make the roads safer.
The provision issued in a working group with the regions was approved by the various governments. But he warned, as turned out to be the case, that a revision could follow.
Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga