New road rules: How Belgium's new emergency lanes will work

New road rules: How Belgium's new emergency lanes will work
Credit: Belga

From Thursday 1 October, drivers on Belgium motorways will have to clear a path for emergency services in as soon as traffic starts to slow down: here is how it works.

Emergency services have been asking for such a new regulation for a long time as they often lose valuable time because they get stuck in traffic.

As not everyone knows about the measure or understands the principle, signs next to the road or dynamic traffic signs should help to spread awareness, according to Danny Smagghe, spokesperson for Touring. "Certainly in places where there are daily structural traffic jams," he told Het Nieuwsblad.

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"Additionally, it is also important to involve foreign mobility organisations. Belgium is a transit country with a lot of foreign traffic," said Smagghe. "If many Belgians are not aware of it today, many of those foreign drivers certainly won't be."

How does it work?

On all roads with two lanes in the same direction, drivers in the left lane must keep as much to the left side of the lane as possible. Drivers on the right lane must keep as right as possible, traffic institute Vias explained.

On all roads with three or more lanes, drivers in the lane that is the most to the left should keep as left as possible, those on the other lanes should stay as much to the right side of their lane as possible.

This way, the emergency services will always be able to pass smoothly and safely. This video (voice-over in Dutch) illustrates the principle visually.

What is the point of such an emergency lane?

The Highway Code states that drivers must clear a passageway for priority vehicles, but up till now, how that should be done had not been specified anywhere, according to Touring.

At least a quarter of drivers in Belgium did not know what to do when they suddenly heard or saw a priority vehicle approaching, according to a 2018 survey by the Federal Public Mobility Service, Vias Institute and the Brussels-Capital Region's Urgent Medical Assistance and Firefighting Service.

As a result, fire brigades, ambulances or police vehicles often lose valuable time when they have to make their way through traffic jams.

The move will align Belgian roads with other motorways in countries such as Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, where these measures have already proved their worth, according to Federal Mobility Minister François Bellot.

Which vehicles are allowed to use the emergency lane?

All priority vehicles, such as police, fire trucks, ambulances, civil protection services will be allowed to use the lane so that they can quickly intervene at the scene of an accident.

The vehicles must be equipped with blue lights and a siren, but they are not obliged to use them at all times.

When do you have to move to the side to form an emergency lane?

As soon as traffic begins to slow down and traffic jams begin to form, according to Vias spokesperson Stef Willems. "Even if there is no priority vehicle nearby at that time, you must ensure that they can pass easily if necessary," he told Het Nieuwsblad.

How wide should this emergence lane be?

The Motorway Code does not include any width measurements, as everything depends on the width of the lanes, your vehicles and those driving next to you.

In most cases, it will be sufficient to move to the side of the lane you are driving on as much as possible. In theory, you are not allowed to drive over the white full line.

However, the measurements of a regular police vehicle are not the same as those of a fire engine, for example. If a priority vehicle approaches that does not have enough free passage, drivers will have to move apart a little further.

Can the breakdown lane be used to form such an emergency lane?

No, that is not allowed, mainly because some vehicles, such as towing vehicles, need to have free passage on these breakdown lanes in order to be able to quickly reach an accident, according to the federal road police. Drivers have to stick to the limits of the lane they are driving on.

However, if there is no other choice, driver will sometimes temporarily have to drive over the breakdown lane, if a priority vehicle approaches from behind and has insufficient space to pass through. When driving on a road with an adjacent bicycle lane, driving on it is not allowed either.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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