Police vehicles in the United Kingdom

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Law enforcement
in the United Kingdom
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Police vehicles in the United Kingdom are hugely varied depending mostly upon the duties that the vehicle is required to undertake. One of the oldest and most known police vehicle in the UK is the panda car which is often used in a community policing role and general patrol duties. However now Patrol and Response cars are the modern equivalent. [1]

Following an emergency call a response car is often deployed to reach the scene as quickly as possible, with regards to public safety. If a vehicle fails to stop when requested by police officers and enters into a pursuit, then a specialised Road Policing Unit may be dispatched.[2]

Other vehicles employed by police forces in the UK include motorcycles, aircraft and boats.

Ground vehicles[edit]

Road police vehicles in the United Kingdom are generally painted in base colours of white, black, or silver, however silver has become popular in some forces due to the higher resale values after the vehicle's police use is finished. Most are usually marked with retroreflective livery on the sides and red and yellow chevrons on the rear. Some carry slogans, the force crest and contact information for the appropriate force.

Patrol Cars[edit]

Ford Fiesta of the Hampshire Constabulary

Patrol Cars are typically used by Community Support Officers. Not all forces use a Patrol Car as such because Response Cars can serve much the same purpose. Typically Patrol Cars do not have working sirens and are equipped with minimal lighting and livery. Examples of patrol cars used include the Hyundai i10 and Ford Fiesta.

Response Cars[edit]

Ford Focus of the British Transport Police.

Response cars are the most essential mode of transport for all police officers. In most forces these vehicles are commonly low-budget cars because of the simple tasks they need to perform. The Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus have both been used as response cars by forces recently.

Engine sizes vary according to each forces vehicle procurement policies but range from 1.3 to 2.0. Although petrol-powered engines once dominated, diesel engines are now becoming much more common due to their superior fuel economy and therefore lower operating costs.

Response vehicles will generally carry equipment and lighting for use at traffic accidents, such as cones, warning signs and basic first aid equipment. Many response cars now also now carry mobile technology which can be linked to police databases and automatic number plate recognition technology. Response cars are now marked with battenburg livery and are equipped with flashing lights and sirens.

Area Cars[edit]

Some Police Forces also use Area cars to patrol larger cities and deal with more urgent calls and pursuits. Area Cars tend to be heavily marked and carry more equipment. Examples of Area Cars include the Skoda Octavia and the Ford Mondeo.

Traffic Cars[edit]

Vauxhall Insignia of the Thames Valley Police.

Roads Policing Units, also known as Traffic Cars are larger, more powerful vehicles that are capable of carrying out tasks such as high-speed pursuits and attending major accidents. Traffic cars are often estate cars due to the additional equipment they carry, such as traffic cones, signage to warn of road closures or collisions and some basic scene preservation equipment. Their daily roles primarily consist of ANPR patrols.

Unmarked vehicles are also employed for motorway patrol duties.

Armed Response Cars[edit]

An armed response vehicle of the Metropolitan Police Service

Most police officers do not carry firearms in the United Kingdom, so they employ specialist vehicles to provide transport for authorised firearms officers. These vehicles are high performance and will often be larger cars.

Many Armed Response Cars are unmarked to enable them to be unnoticed by the general public. Those that are marked tend to display large painted dots on exterior glass to identify them as carrying armed officers.


A Metropolitan Police BMW R1200RT motorcycle

Motorcycles are used by a number of forces in the UK, typically as part of the Road Policing Unit. Police motorcycles are also used in road safety initiatives such as Bikesafe, a national program to reduce motorcycle casualties in which police motorcyclists provide advanced rider training to members of the public.[3]

The motorcycles used by Police include the BMW R1200RT, Honda ST1100 Pan-European, and Yamaha FJR1300. The Honda ST1300 Pan-European was the most popular bike, but it was withdrawn from service by most forces in 2007,[4] following the death of a Merseyside police motorcyclist in 2005 in an accident caused by an inherent instability in the model.[5]


Main article: Police van
An LDV Convoy van, in service with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)

Police vans, such as the Ford Transit or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, are widely used across the United Kingdom and incorporate a cage for accommodation of prisoners. Although in the United States it is possible to carry a prisoner or suspect in an ordinary police car, some forces do not permit this in the United Kingdom, as most police cars have no barrier between the front and back seats to protect the officers. Each police force will have different policies in relation to prisoner transportation: some will allow compliant prisoners to be transported in response cars (ensuring that one officer sits in the rear with the prisoner, and the prisoner sits behind the passenger seat.

Larger vans are also used to act as mobile control room at major incidents, and may also carry specialized equipment such as hydraulic door entry and cutting tools.[6] One notable example is the Metropolitan Police's Territorial Support Group who utilize Mercedes Sprinters to transport multiple officers to public order or major incidents.

Public order vans include the Vauxhall Monvavo and the Ivceo Daily and are fitted with riot shields to protect the windscreen from damage from ammunition, paint and heavy objects.

Other vehicles[edit]

Armored vehicle of the Metropolitan Police Service, sometimes used in Public order or airport duties[7]
  • 'Dog Support Cars" are specially adapted to ensure the welfare of the police dogs, including air conditioning.
  • Mounted units: horse trailers marked in police livery for the transport of police horses
  • Vehicle removal lorry: recovery lorry marked in police livery.
  • Mobile custody unit: Larger cell vans for events like football matches or riots.
  • Plain Cars Mainly used by CID and contain no Police Equipment.


Police vehicles may carry:

Runlock system[edit]

Most cars and police motorcycles are fitted with a 'Runlock' system. This allows the vehicle's engine to be left running without the keys being in the ignition. This enables adequate power, without battery drain, to be supplied to the vehicle's equipment at the scene of a major incident. The vehicle can only be driven after re-inserting the keys. If the keys are not re-inserted, the engine will switch off if the handbrake is disengaged or the footbrake is activated; or the sidestand is flipped up in the case of a motorcycle. Runlock is also commonly used when an officer is required to quickly decamp from a vehicle, by enabling Runlock, the cars engine can be left running without the risk of someone stealing the vehicle, because, if the vehicle is driven normally, it will shut down, unless the Runlock system is turned off.

Warning equipment[edit]

Under the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989, police vehicles may display blue flashing lights to alert other road users to their presence or when the driver feels that the journey needs to be undertaken urgently. Most police vehicles are also fitted with a siren. In addition to blue lights, many traffic and incident response cars are fitted with flashing red lights that are only visible at the rear of the vehicle. These indicate that the vehicle is stopped or moving slowly.[9]

Roof markings[edit]

Most police vehicles will have aerial roof markings that assists aircraft in identifying them. These can include the unique force code, vehicle identifying mark, or police division that the vehicle belongs to[10]


The Eurocopter EC135 is in service with many UK police forces.

Most British police forces have access to an aircraft, commonly a helicopter. The most widely used helicopters are the Eurocopter EC 135 and MD Explorer.

Police helicopters are fitted with an array of surveillance, navigation and communication technology to help them with a wide variety of tasks. The specific tasks that any one police helicopter performs will vary from force to force, but common deployments are for missing person searches, vehicle pursuits, the tracking of suspects, and maintaining public order.[11][12]

Some police helicopters may be shared with the local air ambulance. In this case, a medically trained person may be carried onboard along with medical equipment and the aircraft will respond to medical emergencies as well as those of the police.[11]


The standard crew in a police helicopter consists of a pilot, responsible solely for operating and flying the aircraft; a front seat observer, responsible for operating the helicopter's surveillance systems; and a rear seat observer, responsible for communications using the tetra radio and downlink systems. Although both observers are often police officers, the pilot does not engage in any police activities and is usually not a police officer.[13]


Police forces whose area includes significant waterways often include marine support units. Not only do these units police the waterways, but they also maintain a capability for waterborne rescue, usually in cooperation with HM Coastguard.


  1. ^ "LIMACHARLIE: Beat Patrol Car". Lancashire Constabulary. 2009. [dead link]
  2. ^ "Road Policing". Greater Manchester Police. 2009. 
  3. ^ "Bikesafe". Retrieved 12 October 2009. 
  4. ^ "Police withdraw Pan over safety concerns". Motorcycle News. 14 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  5. ^ "Police bike is 'serious threat'". BBC News. 27 April 2007. Retrieved 12 October 2009. 
  6. ^ "Merseyside Police: About Us: Departments: Matrix Disruption Team". Merseyside Police. 2009. 
  7. ^ Cusick, James; Milmo, Cahal (22 February 2012). "Military armoured cars". London: Independant. 
  8. ^ "Vehicles and Equipment". Central Motorway Police Group. 2009. 
  9. ^ "UK Emergency Vehicles > Information > Blue Light Use". UK Emergency Vehicles. 2009. 
  10. ^ http://www.truckpol.com/downloads/43-04_Thermal_Roof_Markings.pdf Home Office Police Science Development Branch, publication 43/04 2004, relating to aerial roof markings.
  11. ^ a b "What We Do". Western County Air Operations Unit. 2004. 
  12. ^ "Metropolitan Police Service – Air Support Unit". Metropolitan Police Service. 2009. 
  13. ^ "Metropolitan Police Service – Air Support Unit". Metropolitan Police Service. 2009. 

External links[edit]