What should I do when there's an emergency vehicle behind me?

There's flashing blue lights behind you - what do you do? Here's our full guide, including how you can stay safe and legal when letting an emergency vehicle pass...

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Darren Moss
20 May 2016 09:12 | Last updated: 13 Jun 2018 19:52

When you suddenly see blue flashing lights behind you, it means an emergency vehicle is approaching. But many people don't realise that getting out of the way can lead to a fine if you do it in the wrong way.

So what should you do? Our full guide explains how you can safely (and legally) let an emergency vehicle pass.

What should I do if there’s an emergency vehicle behind me?

You should take action to let the emergency vehicle pass, but it’s important to remember that in doing so, you need to keep within the letter of the law. If you jump a red light to make space, then you’ll still be breaking the law and are likely to be prosecuted. The same goes for entering a bus lane or yellow box junction.

In a court of law, it will be up to you to prove that the reason you broke the rules of the road was to clear a path for an emergency vehicle. And even if you succeed in doing this, there's the potential for months of worry beforehand while you wait for your day in court.

The best thing to do, if you can and the space allows, is to move yourself to the side of the road and come to a controlled stop. This should be done without putting any other road users or pedestrians at risk, and without committing any motoring offences.

What should I do when there's an emergency vehicle behind me?

Should I stop where I am?

This is rarely the best course of action, because emergency vehicles will then have to weave around you. You should try to manoeuvre towards the side of the road and then slow down to a stop. The exception is when there is a bus lane; leave this clear for the emergency vehicle to use.

Am I legally obliged to move over for emergency vehicles?

No, you are under no legal obligation to move over for emergency services vehicles. However, 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'.

In other words, while you should look to let the emergency vehicle pass, you shouldn't get out of the way if the only way to do so is to break the law.

What should I do when there's an emergency vehicle behind me?

What sort of emergency vehicles may be trying to get through?

The following types of vehicles are allowed to use lights on UK roads, although the colours vary between blue, red, green and amber depending on the service involved:

  • Police cars and vans
  • Ambulances
  • Fire trucks and vans
  • Forestry Commission vehicles (when fighting fires)
  • Ministry of Defence vehicles, or special forces vehicles responding to a national security threat
  • HM Coastguard
  • RNLI Lifeboat launching vehicles
  • Mountain Rescue
  • HM Revenue and Customs, when investigating serious crime

These vehicles are allowed to fit flashing blue lights and sirens, but can only use them when proceeding to or at the scene of an emergency. Vehicles with flashing blue lights are exempt from many of the normal road traffic regulations, including having to stop at red lights, driving on the correct side of the road, and obeying the speed limit. It’s important to remember that in these cases, the drivers of these vehicles are highly trained.

In addition, doctors on emergency calls and Royal Park Estate Wardens are allowed to use green emergency lights, but these grant no special exemptions from normal traffic laws.

What should I do when there's an emergency vehicle behind me?

What’s the official advice?

Rule 219 of the Highway Code, which deals with Emergency and incident support vehicles, states:

“You 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.

“When one approaches do not panic. Consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs. If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but try to avoid stopping before the brow of a hill, a bend or narrow section of road.

“Do not endanger yourself, other road users or pedestrians and avoid mounting the kerb. Do not brake harshly on approach to a junction or roundabout, as a following vehicle may not have the same view as you.”

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