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Emergency vehicles have special legal exemptions to break traffic laws when necessary.

Many movies feature the cliché of a panicked husband breaking the speed limit and blowing past police officers in order to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. And occasionally, such things do happen in real life.

On Sunday, May 8, two Los Angeles Highway Patrol officers got more than they bargained for when they pulled over a speeding car, only to be greeted by a stressed husband and his pregnant wife. Once the officers understood the nature of the situation, they escorted the driver and his wife to a nearby hospital. However, doctors weren’t quick enough to respond, and ultimately, one officer helped deliver a healthy baby boy while the mother laid in the passenger seat.

It’s a heartwarming story, and everything turned out just fine for the happy family and the assisting officers. But it does raise an interesting question.

Is it legal to speed due to a medical emergency, such as a loved one in labor?

This actually has a very simple answer: No. While many highway patrol officers and police officers choose not to write tickets or penalize drivers for breaking the law due to medical emergencies, the simple fact is that members of the public do not have the right to break the law in such situations. Officers and judges are granted the latitude to grant exceptions, but they are under no obligation to do so. And in fact, many officers choose to write tickets in such situations.

While it’s easy to panic and believe that a medical situation warrants breaking the law, laws are in place for a good reason. Just a few years ago, a woman in North Carolina died when her husband crashed while driving her to the hospital. Sadly, while the couple’s child was successfully delivered, he passed away 10 days later.

Regardless of the situation, breaking traffic laws can result in the serious injury or death. If you believe that a loved one is in danger and requires immediate medical attention, the wisest decision is to call 911. Ambulances have the legal right to break traffic laws when it’s safe to do so, and are piloted by drivers who have the necessary training to know when and where to do so.

It should also be noted that, while some women go through the labor process very quickly, in most instances it takes hours or even days after a pregnant woman’s contractions start—or water breaks—for delivery to occur. In fact, most major hospitals, including Kaiser Permanente, advise mothers-to-be to stay at home after contractions start, and to only come in once contractions have reached a certain pace and strength. (Please consult with your medical specialist to know what’s appropriate in your situation.)

Labor does not constitute an emergency, even though it may feel like one. If you do encounter a situation which you believe is an actual medical emergency, please call 911. While calling an ambulance may seem like the slower option, response times are generally very low—typically under 5 minutes in urban areas—and paramedics will be able to start medical interventions once they arrive. If you choose to drive your loved one to the hospital yourself, they won’t receive any medical assistance until you manage to make it to the hospital. And, of course, you run the risk of being stopped by law enforcement officers, or having an accident.

When it doubt, the safest thing to do in a medical emergency is call 911.

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