Motoring Insight Magazine Online

Skipping red traffic lights to let emergency vehicles through is ‘common sense’, says AA President Edmund King

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Published: 16 December 2013


Here’s a situation many drivers are faced with at least once a year: you hear an emergency vehicle, you look in your mirrors and it’s speeding towards you. But you’re at red traffic lights, right at the front of the queue. And you’re blocking the road. 


Your instinct is to get out of the way but you cannot drive up onto the kerb because it is too high, there is no drop-down kerb or there are pedestrians walking along that you would not wish to frighten or injure. So your immediate instinct is to skip the red traffic light and pull over into a safe place out of the way of the fast-approaching emergency vehicle.


“It’s common sense,” as AA President Edmund King describes it. You could be saving someone’s life. So little do you expect to receive a bureaucratic letter demanding a £100 fine for ‘contravening a red traffic light’ when an emergency vehicle is behind you. 


Thames Valley Police say: “It should only be done when it is safe to do so without putting yourself or other members of the public in danger and it should only be done slowly and carefully. It is important to remember that in committing the offence (crossing the stop line) the onus will be on you to provide evidence that you did so to allow an emergency vehicle through, and this may be considered as mitigation.”


So should this road law be scrapped to put drivers at ease when in such a situation?


“I think with all the traffic laws, there has to be a degree of flexibility and common sense in terms of enforcement,” explained a very charismatic Edmund King in an interview with Motortrades Insight. “There are various anomalies of life on the road and the rules of the road aren’t always practical. There have been cases where someone has pulled into a yellow zone at traffic lights to let emergency vehicles through and then be picked up by CCTV and threatened with prosecution, despite the fact that they were perhaps aiding the police or an ambulance get to their destination.”


Another situation is if there is an emergency vehicle approaching you on a country road from behind and you need to pull over to allow it to pass. That means getting to the lay-by as quickly as possible, sometimes speeding – sometimes even being flashed by a hidden or very clear speed camera. So what happens if you speed to get to a safe place to let an emergency vehicle pass - and you have a 'black box'?



“We would see it as excessive speed because the way that the device works is that it monitors the speed you’re doing against the road speed so if you’re doing 85mph and the road speed is 35mph then the device will record it as excessive speed.


“But as I understand it, the insurance companies do not penalise people for isolated incidents. If you regularly go a certain percentage above the speed limit, then the insurance company may say to the motorist to adjust their driving behaviour by doing X, Y and J or we’ll be increasing the cost of your policy in the next quarter.”


Rule 219 of The Highway Code states: “You should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police, doctors or other emergency vehicles using blue, red or green lights and sirens or flashing headlights or for Driver and Vehicle Agency Enforcement Officer 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 the 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 or other road users 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.”


So try not to worry if you are in such a situation. Simply remain calm and attempt to manoeuvre your car to a safe area of the road as quickly and as safely as possible, keeping an eye out for other road users and ensuring you are not endangering anyone as you make way for the fast-approaching emergency vehicle. 

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