How to be overtaken by a 999 vehicle

Am I legally obliged to move over for emergency vehicles?

The Highway Code states that you should ‘consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs’.

Rule 219 of the Highway Code states that drivers should “look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police, doctors or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights and sirens or flashing headlights, or traffic officer and incident support vehicles using flashing amber lights.”

What counts as an emergency vehicle?

An emergency vehicle is classed as a vehicle used:

  • for police purposes (but not necessarily a police vehicle, e.g. search and rescue)
  • for firefighting purposes (but not necessarily a fire brigade vehicle) including local councils and the Forestry Commission as well as fire salvage work
  • for ambulance purposes (but not necessarily an ambulance vehicle, e.g. cave rescue) including the movement of sick, injured or disabled people and for moving human organs
  • for bomb disposal
  • for nuclear accidents
  • for mountain rescue
  • by the Royal Air Force Armament Support Unit
  • by the National Blood Service
  • by HM Coastguard
  • for mine rescue
  • by the RNLI for launching lifeboats
  • by HM Revenue and Customs for serious crime
  • by the military special forces (e.g. the SAS) for a national security emergency

How to be overtaken safely

When you spot an emergency vehicle approaching with its lights flashing you should consider the route it is likely to take, then take an appropriate action to let it pass.

You can pull to the side of the road and stop but you must avoid doing this on a bend, narrow section of the road or before the brow of a hill, which could put the emergency vehicle into the path of oncoming traffic.

Even when you are in the process of letting an emergency vehicle pass, it is important to continue obeying nearby traffic signs, because you will still be liable to prosecution if you break any motoring laws, while allowing an emergency vehicle to pass by.

Also, avoid mounting the kerb, braking harshly on the approach to a junction or roundabout. Using your driving awareness, avoid any action that could put pedestrians or other road users in danger.

No driver should move into a bus lane or run a red light move out of the way for an emergency vehicle – this could land you a fine if you do. The 999 crews know that motorists are not allowed to ‘jump’ a red light. The only exception would be if a uniformed police officer directed a motorist through a red traffic signal.

It is advised that drivers do not overtake emergency vehicles while on pursuit and, if one has passed them to wait and follow at a safe distance.

If you are on a road with solid white lines then keep driving at the speed limit as the emergency vehicle will wait until you’re past the white lines. Usually the vehicle’s sirens will come back on and it will overtake.

Drivers should also keep going on an approach to a bend or brow of a hill, until the road ahead is clear.

Always check your mirrors to see what signals the emergency response vehicle might be making. If it is a police car, look carefully, as it may be signalling you to stop.

Are you Blue Light Aware?

Do Emergency Vehicles have to follow any rules?

With ambulances now expected to reach the most seriously ill patients in an average time of seven minutes, there is more pressure to reach destinations faster. 

But drivers of emergency vehicles have laws and rules they must follow, even in an emergency. These rules are in place so as not to force other road users into illegal manoeuvres.

For example, emergency vehicles should turn their sirens off at junctions while traffic lights are on red, to avoid encouraging other drivers to jump a red light.

Most drivers of emergency vehicles undergo advanced driving courses and official training is required if that driver wants exemption from speed limits, where necessary.

They are granted certain exemptions from the law in emergency circumstances, including:

  • They can disobey the speed limit.
  • Pass on the wrong side of a keep left bollard.
  • Treat red traffic lights as a give way sign.
  • Drive on a motorway hard shoulder, even against the direction of traffic.
  • They can use bus lanes, even if in use to reduce the effect of congestion on public transport.

However, there are also many laws emergency vehicles cannot ignore, even when answering a 999 call. They should not:

  • Ignore ‘stop’ or ‘give way’ signs.
  • Ignore ‘no entry’ signs.
  • Drive through a one-way street in the wrong direction.
  • Ignore flashing signs at level crossings or fire stations.
  • Fail to stop if involved in a Road Traffic Accident
  • Cross a solid white line down the middle of the road. That is unless, like for other road users, it is done to pass a stationary vehicle, slow-moving cyclist or horse, or a road maintenance vehicle.
  • Fail to obey traffic lights controlling a Railway Level crossing or Fire station
  • Drive without a seat belt
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