Emergency vehicle equipment in the United Kingdom

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An Incident Response Unit operated by Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service with a blue lightbar on top, alternately flashing LED lights on the front, and flashing headlights. This vehicle is part of the New Dimension programme and consequently does not carry any insignia of Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service.
Electronic sirens like the Whelen® have replaced two-tone horns on most emergency vehicles

Emergency vehicle equipment is used in the United Kingdom to indicate urgent journeys by an emergency service. This usage is colloquially known as Blues and twos which refers to the blue lights and the two-tone siren once commonplace (although most sirens now have a range of tones).

Permitted use[edit]

In the United Kingdom, the use of blue lights is regulated by the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, and sirens by the Road Vehicles Construction and Use Regulations 1986, both as amended by various other pieces of legislation (see right). The 1989 restrictions state that no vehicle, other than an emergency vehicle, shall be fitted with a "blue warning beacon or special warning lamp", or a device which resembles a blue warning beacon or a special warning lamp, whether it works or not.[1]

Type of vehicle Blue flashing lights Sirens Other exemptions
used for police purposes Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 Yes
used for National Crime Agency purposes Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Consequential and Supplementary Amendments to Secondary Legislation) Order 2006[2] Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Consequential and Supplementary Amendments to Secondary Legislation) Order 2006[2] Yes
used for purposes of a fire and rescue authority (or relevant authority in Scotland) Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 Yes
used for ambulance purposes Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 Yes
an ambulance, being a vehicle (other than an invalid carriage) which is constructed or adapted for the purposes of conveying sick, injured or disabled persons and which is used for such purposes Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 Yes
owned by a body formed primarily for the purposes of fire salvage and used for those or similar purposes Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 No
owned by the Forestry Commission or by a local authority and used from time to time for the purposes of fighting fires Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986  ?
owned or operated by the Secretary of State for Defence and used:
  • for the purposes of the disposal of bombs or explosives
  • for the purposes of any activity which prevents or decreases the exposure of persons to radiation arising from a radiation accident or radiation emergency, or in connection with an event which could lead to a radiation accident or radiation emergency
  • by the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service for the purposes of rescue operations or any other emergencies
Road Vehicles Lighting (Amendment) Regulations 2005 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2005 Some
owned or operated by the Secretary of State for Defence and used by United Kingdom Special Forces in response, or for training or practice in responding, to a national security emergency Road Traffic Exemptions (Special Forces) (Variation and Amendment) Regulations 2011 Road Traffic Exemptions (Special Forces) (Variation and Amendment) Regulations 2011 Yes
primarily used for the purposes of the Blood Transfusion Service provided under the National Health Service Act 1977 or under the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978 Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 Some
used by Her Majesty's Coastguard or Coastguard Auxiliary Service for the purposes of giving aid to persons in danger or vessels in distress on or near the coast Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 No
owned by the British Coal Corporation (Now Coal Authority) and used for the purposes of rescue operations at mines Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986  ?
owned by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and used for the purposes of launching lifeboats Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986  ?
primarily used for the purposes of conveying any human tissue for organ transplant or similar purposes Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 No
under the lawful control of the Commissioners for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and used from time to time for the purposes of the investigation of serious crime Road Vehicles Lighting (Amendment) Regulations 2005 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2005  ?
used for mountain rescue purposes Road Vehicles Lighting and Goods Vehicles (Plating and Testing) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2009 No

Each of the emergency services listed above have different policies regarding the use of blue lights and sirens. Most require the driver to be trained to a particular standard in response driving, but currently no national standard exists. Provision exists for a national standard to be required in order to utilise speed limit exemptions, but this has not been brought into force.

Road Traffic Exemptions[edit]

Six Metropolitan Police Service motorcycles driving with the blues and twos on. They can be seen breaking a number of normal traffic rules. Each motorbike has driven through a red light, and the motorbike on the far right can be seen driving on the wrong side of the road and passing on the right of a keep left sign.

In the UK, vehicles used for certain purposes may have exemptions from some road traffic regulations whilst responding to an emergency. Merely being authorised to use blue lights and sirens does not of itself grant exemptions from road traffic law.[3] These exemptions apply whether or not blue lights and/or sirens are being used, although it is mainly desirable:[4]

  • treating a red traffic light as a give way sign[5]
  • passing to the right of a keep left or keep right sign (but not disobeying a turn left, turn right, or ahead only sign)[6]
  • driving on a motorway hard shoulder (even against the direction of traffic)
  • exceeding the statutory speed limit (police, fire and ambulance purposes only; and special forces purposes only for national security emergencies where the driver is trained or is being trained in high-speed driving)[7]
  • driving in a bus lane
  • stopping on zig-zag lines[8]
  • parking in restricted areas, including against flow of traffic at night
  • leaving the vehicle with the engine running, normally the offence of "quitting" (police and ambulance utilising the run lock feature on most cars)
  • using audible warnings outside permitted hours[9]
  • driving against the flow of traffic on a one-way street, only with permission of a police officer or traffic warden

See also[edit]

References[edit]