California Traffic Laws: Definition of Emergency (Veh. Code, § 21055) Ambulance Police Fire Truck

An “emergency” exists if the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle is [insert one of the following]

  • responding to an emergency call.
  • involved in rescue operations.
  • in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law.
  • responding to, but not returning from, a fire alarm.
  • operating a fire department vehicle while traveling from one place to another place because of an emergency call.

Authorized Emergency Vehicle Exemption. Vehicle Code section 21055(a).

“Whether a vehicle is driven in response to an emergency call depends on the nature of the call received and the situation as presented to the mind of the driver and not upon whether there is an emergency in fact. The driver, of course, should have reasonable grounds to believe that there is an emergency.” (Gallup v. Sparks-Mundo Engineering Co. (1954) 43 Cal.2d 1, 5 [271 P.2d 34], internal citations omitted.)


A driver of an ambulance is permitted to ignore traffic signals if a siren is sounded, a red warning light is shown, and the vehicle is driven in response to an emergency call, provided the driver exercises due care and does not use the privilege arbitrarily. Cal. Veh. Code §§ 44(e), 454. Whether  vehicle is driven in response to an emergency call depends on the nature of the call received and the situation as presented to the mind of the driver and not upon whether there is an emergency in fact. The driver should have reasonable grounds to believe that there is an emergency.  Gallup v. Sparks-Mundo Engineering Co., 43 Cal. 2d 1

A driver of an ambulance specially constructed and maintained for emergency purposes is permitted to ignore traffic signals if a siren is sounded, a red warning light is shown, and vehicle is driven in response to an emergency call, provided driver exercises due care and does not use privilege arbitrarily. Gallup v. Sparks-Mundo Engineering Co., 43 Cal. 2d 1 


Whether a vehicle is driven in response to an emergency call depends on nature of call received and situation as presented to mind of driver and not on whether there is an emergency in fact, though he should have reasonable grounds to believe that there is an emergency. Gallup v. Sparks-Mundo Engineering Co., 43 Cal. 2d 1  



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