2004-03-03 / Editorials


Breathes there a New York City dweller with soul so dead who never to himself hath said: "I hear a siren—I’d better get out of the way?" If so, that person is in trouble. Failing to get out of the way of a vehicle equipped with and using lights and siren is not only foolhardy, it’s against the law. We’re happy to say that everyone we know who lives in this city immediately takes whatever steps are necessary to clear a path so that emergency vehicles—ambulances, fire trucks, police vehicles—can complete their life-and-death runs.

For the most part, the only vehicles to use the light-and-siren packages that we know of have been those that need them. However, light-and-siren packages were installed in 328 civilian city vehicles, including 12 cars used by members of the Bloomberg mayoral administration at City Hall and cars belonging to or used by the Corrections Department, Sanitation, Transportation and Citywide Administrative Services among others. In all, 328 civilian vehicles had lights and sirens installed.

Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the equipment removed from 255 city cars. The removal order was issued after reports were published that lights and sirens on the car of city official were improperly and inappropriately used to clear traffic as the official was being driven from her home in The Bronx to City Hall. The official was considered to have violated a strict no-sirens policy issued by Bloomberg when he took office in 2002.

We applaud the mayor for first establishing the policy and now for enforcing it. Misuse of lights and sirens, while rare, can easily lead drivers into a boy-who-cried-wolf mode of thinking. If a driver pulls over when he sees lights flashing in his rearview mirror and hears a siren, only to watch as a civilian car goes past, he may not be so quick or so willing to cooperate the next time. Police cannot be everywhere to enforce traffic laws and on crowded city streets, cooperation is vital to ensure traffic flow. It is all the more essential when an ambulance or fire truck must get through.

We also applaud the news media which brought the problem to the mayor’s and the public’s attention. Newspapers, radio and television exist to bring situations to light so they can be corrected. The television news team that first noted and reported the misuse of this equipment acted in the finest traditions of the Fourth Estate in its essential function as guardian of the good and welfare of the public. We’re proud to be in the same business.

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