Police vehicles in the United Kingdom

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Law enforcement
in the United Kingdom
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The 52 police forces in the UK use a wide range of operational vehicles including compact cars, powerful estates and armored police carriers. The main uses are patrol, response, tactical pursuit and public order policing. Other vehicles used by British police include motorcycles, aircraft and boats.

Ground vehicles[edit]

Patrol Cars[edit]

Ford Fiesta Patrol Car of the Hampshire Constabulary
Ford Focus of the British Transport Police.

Patrol cars may also be known as response or area cars. They are the most essential mode of police transport. In most forces these vehicles are low-budget cars due to the simple tasks they need to perform. The Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta have both been used as patrol 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.

Forces may choose to use unmarked patrol cars to double up as diary cars, covert cars and unmarked transport vehicles for discrete escort of civilians or prisoners.

Marked variants of these cars feature a single row of battenburg police markings on each side of car with 'Police' lettering on the front, back side of the vehicle. Badges or slogans from police forces can be found on the front and sides of marked cars in most areas to identity the police it belongs to. Most marked cars also have hi-vis chevrons on the back.

Response Cars[edit]

These vehicles are used for attending 999 calls and patrolling in targeted areas, where a police officer may be needed more urgently. Many forces do not differ between patrol and response cars; this could mean the response car is used to cover both its normal role and the duty of a traditional patrol car. Forces including City of London Police, Metropolitan Police and Thames Valley Police do not differentiate between the two types of cars and use only one specification identified as a response car.

Response cars are much the same as the patrol cars but will generally carry equipment and lighting for use at traffic accidents, such as cones, red and blue boot or side police lights, warning signs and basic first aid equipment. Many response cars in the UK now also carry mobile technology which can be linked to police databases and automatic number plate recognition technology. Most response cars have sirens. The Vauxhall Astra is a classic but key car in police response units.

Area Cars[edit]

There are times when police feel the need to increase presence and performance in an area. Area cars are tasked to serve high crime areas or large areas with a fair response time. Area cars typically carry a single row of battenburg marking like their response car counterparts but the drivers are trained in tactical pursuit, advanced driving and stopping fleeing offenders. Area cars may carry both firearms officers or local patrol officers but are on hand in major cities and large urban counties when help is needed most. Area cars may be various high performance vehicles. Vauxhall Insignia, Mitsubishi Shogun, Skoda Octavia, Volvo XC70 and the recent Ford Mondeo have all been used as area cars in past years. Some area cars may be tasked for rural patrols or highway duties so may utilize 4x4 capability when needed. Area cars can be old Traffic cars given to local response teams when the vehicles become dated. London's new area cars are branded with ANPR Interceptor wording.

Traffic Cars[edit]

Road policing units use cars that 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 that can carry additional equipment, such as traffic cones, signs 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.

The most common traffic car used by British police RPU's is the BMW 530d while models from Audi, such as the Audi S3 are also becoming popular as unmarked units

Cars Used By Armed Police Units[edit]

A type of Metropolitan Police Service car no longer in use

With the exception of Northern Ireland most police officers in the United Kingdom do not routinely carry firearms. There are, however, a number of armed tactical units in which authorised firearms officers are deployed and which use special vehicles. Armed Response Units operate in all police forces. The Metropolitan Police also have a Diplomatic Protection Group (DPG) and a Special Escort Group (SEG) for the protection of VIPs.

A range of vehicles are used by these squads. They are often larger and with a higher performance than those used for local patrols. DPG cars, minibuses and vans are red. Special Escort Group officers use Range Rovers and motorcycles. The motorcycle officers may be identified by their Glock 17 pistols.

Some Armed Response Unit cars are unmarked to enable them to be unnoticed. In London the marked patrol cars of armed units are identified by large yellow dots on the car exterior.


A Metropolitan Police BMW R1200RT motorcycle

Motorcycles are used by a number of forces in the UK, usually by 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.[1]

Some Metropolitan Police Special Escort Group officers also use motor cycles. These officers may be identified by their side arms as they are the only armed motor cycle police in London.

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,[2] following the death of a Merseyside police motorcyclist in 2005 in an accident caused by an inherent instability in the model.[3]

Vans and Minibuses[edit]

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 to hold prisoners. Although in the United States it is usual to carry a prisoner in a police car, some British forces do not permit this, as most police cars have no barrier between the front and back seats to protect the officers. Each police force has different policies on prisoner transportation. Some 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.

Minibuses are used to carry groups of police officers, for example to public order and major incidents, and for inner-city patrols. One notable example is the Mercedes Sprinter used by the Metropolitan Police's Territorial Support Group. Other public order minibuses include the Vauxhall Movano and the Iveco Daily. They are usually fitted with riot shields to protect the windscreen from damage.

Other vehicles[edit]

Jankel armoured truck of the Metropolitan Police Service, sometimes used for public order policing but mainly for airport duties[4]
  • Dog unit vehicles: cars and vans adapted for the welfare of the police dogs, including air conditioning.
  • Mounted police vehicles: horse trailers for the transport of police horses
  • Vehicle removal trucks: recovery trucks for the removal of vehicles.
  • Mobile custody units: vans to hold prisoners during public disorder.
  • Unmarked cars; used by CID and traffic officers.

Vehicle Markings, Lights & Sirens[edit]

Nearly a half of British police forces use the battenburg livery of yellow and blue checks for their vehicles. Other forces use of white, black, or silver. Silver became popular in some forces because of the higher resale values when sold. Most cars use retroreflective livery on the sides and red and yellow chevrons on the rear. Some carry slogans, the force crest and contact information.

Most police cars, vans and minibuses have aerial roof markings that help aircraft crew identify them. These can include the unique force code, vehicle identifying mark, or police division that the vehicle belongs to.

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. These lights are usually mounted on the roof and incorporated into the standard vehicle system of external lights. 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.[5]


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.


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.[6][7]

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.[6]


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.


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. ^ "Bikesafe". Retrieved 12 October 2009. 
  2. ^ "Police withdraw Pan over safety concerns". Motorcycle News. 14 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  3. ^ "Police bike is 'serious threat'". BBC News. 27 April 2007. Retrieved 12 October 2009. 
  4. ^ Cusick, James; Milmo, Cahal (22 February 2012). "Military armoured cars". London: Independent. 
  5. ^ "UK Emergency Vehicles > Information > Blue Light Use". UK Emergency Vehicles. 2009. 
  6. ^ a b "What We Do". Western County Air Operations Unit. 2004. 
  7. ^ "Metropolitan Police Service – Air Support Unit". Metropolitan Police Service. 2009. 

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