Do Ambulance Drivers Have a Speed Limit?

If you are looking to become an ambulance so that you can go 120mph in a 50mph zone, then you may want to hold that thought. The truth is that like any other emergency official, the traffic laws apply to the ambulance as well, and there is a time and a place for everything. Knowledge of local traffic laws and your department’s guidelines are of great importance.

If an ambulance is in a code three emergency where a patient must be transported to the hospital immediately, the driver can go 10mph over the speed limit. Any other non-emergent situations will require drivers to follow traffic laws.

So if you are considering a career as a first responder and tend to go over the speed limit, then it’s time to slow down and read this article. By the time you finish reading this article, you will have saved yourself from any disciplinary action and possible speeding tickets.

Ambulance Speed Limits

Do Ambulance Drivers Have a Speed Limit?

When you work as an ambulance, it is of utmost importance to differentiate between an emergency and a joy ride, which is completely frowned upon and should not be done. It may seem pretty obvious to determine between the joyride and the emergency, but unfortunately, a few bad apples have taken advantage of the situation.

Not every department and city will have the same traffic laws regarding civilians and emergency vehicles; however, they are quite similar with minor differences. Here are just a few instances when ambulance drivers can go above the speed limit.

Code 1- No Transport

This is pretty much a non-emergency situation in which the ambulance does not have a medical emergency and can take care of the patient while on site. A code 1 is a scenario in which the patient has received a minor injury that can be treated on the scene, such as a minor cut that does not require stitches. In cases like this, the ambulance will get a call describing the incident, and at that point, they will use their judgment to see if it is an emergency. For a code one situation, the ambulance is to drive at the speed limit with no lights and sirens.

Code 2- Transport by Ambulance

For a code two scenario, the ambulance will need to transport the patient to a medical facility to seek proper treatment. An example of a code two scenario is where the patient may have sustained an injury and is stable enough to be taken to the hospital. In instances like this, the ambulance guarantees a 15 minute response time, which means that the ambulance will need to show up, do triage on-site or in the truck, and then transport to the hospital, all in 15 minutes. At this point, you may find the ambulance going above the speed limit only slightly to make the 15-minute limit.

Code 3- Lights and Sirens

A code three situation is by far one of the most significant emergencies resulting in the ambulance having to turn on their lights and sirens to get the patient to the hospital. An example of a code three situation would be a gunshot wound or any other life-threatening situation that requires immediate medical attention. In this case, the ambulance driver is allowed to drive up to 10mph over the speed limit and a maximum of 70mph total. Therefore when using your lights and sirens, make sure that you are conscious of the speed limit when transporting the patient.

As you go through your certification, you will be able to differentiate between the various codes and make a judgment for yourself as to what constitutes you going over the speed limit. The important thing is to not take advantage of the privilege of being able to go over the speed limit.

Traffic Laws For Ambulance Drivers

Do Ambulance Drivers Have a Speed Limit?

In many cases, the ambulance will need to drive their vehicle according to local traffic laws except for an emergency. While the traffic laws may seem obvious, there are still some expectations that your department head will have for you to abide by the department and state traffic rules. Understanding the various traffic laws that you have to follow will not only save you from disciplinary action but also help you do your job more efficiently.

Here is a refresher of what is expected of you when you operate your emergency vehicle.

  • Red Lights/ Stop Signs: If you find yourself in a Code 3 situation and find yourself having to cross a red light or stop sign, you will need to slow the rig down, look both ways and then proceed with the crossing. The lights and sirens will alert all the other drivers that there is an ambulance nearby and automatically give you the right way.
  • Sirens off after drop off: The driver should not have his or her sirens off after transporting the patient unless they find themselves having to answer to a code three situation at that moment. After drop off, the ambulance must abide by traffic laws like any other civilian.

If pulled over, you must stop. If, for some reason, the police signal for you to pull over, then you must stop. If you are by any chance breaking traffic laws and are not answering to an emergency, then the police have every right to pull you over and possibly even give you a traffic ticket.

  • Slow down when a school bus has stopped: If the driver is in a code three situation and a school bus has its stop sign up, the driver must slow down until the school bus driver signals the ambulance to drive. However, this does not apply to non-emergency situations, and if an ambulance does see a school bus, they must stop until the bus moves on.

As you can see, ambulance drivers are expected to follow the same laws as civilians; however, there are exceptions to that rule in the case of an emergency.

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Tips For First Time Responders

If you are reading this article, then chances are you are considering becoming a first-time responder, or you are very curious about what first-time responders experience. Being a first responder is much more than just addressing a medical emergency; some things get in your way and potentially make your job harder. Here are just a few things that you may not know you have to do when operating an ambulance rig.

Do Ambulance Drivers Have a Speed Limit?

The seatbelt is a must. This may seem quite obvious for everyone, but some first responders may think that this does not apply to them. Believe it, or not first responders must wear a seatbelt no matter how big the emergency is. If you are caught without your seatbelt on, you may face serious disciplinary action down the line. Consider it as a way to lead by example.

Determine the best route to get to an emergency. It may seem like a shortcut is the best option, but sometimes those shortcuts are congested with traffic. So you may want to consider the fastest route so that you do not have to go past the speed limit every time there’s an emergency.

Consider the comfort of the patient when driving. It’s no secret that ambulance rigs are extremely bulky, and every speed bump and pothole is felt when driving. Therefore if you have a patient in the back, make sure you are driving smoothly enough to not discomfort them or further their injuries. Try slowing down when seeing a speed bump or pothole, and try braking lightly to ensure a smoother transport.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to answer emergency calls like a pro. The important thing to remember throughout all of this is that the patient arrives at the hospital safely to get proper treatment.


It’s safe to say that driving an ambulance truck will not put you above the law and that all traffic laws must be honored unless there is an emergency. The most important thing to remember here is that your patient’s transport to the hospital should be your number one priority. Whether you have to go slightly over the speed limit or not, you need to make sure that it is done so safely, so now that your traffic questions are fully answered it’s time to go out there and save lives!

Q&A Section

Can an ambulance driver get a ticket for anything else besides speeding?

They absolutely can! Whether they are illegally parked or break another traffic law when not responding to an emergency, they may receive a ticket. However, this is up to a traffic officer’s discretion and also depends on your jurisdiction.

Do aspiring EMTs need to take a driving test?

In most cases, they will need to take a driver’s test for the position; however, a driver’s license is sufficient for the position in some states. Consider looking up the entry requirements before applying for the position to see what is needed.

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.