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Clarify laws regarding red lights and emergency services

Comment 3rd September 2010

The law should be clarified or amended to permit drivers/motorcyclists to perform manoeuvres at a red lights to allow emergency services to pass safely and expediently. This could be achieved by streamlining the appeal process for fines and points received due to running a red light running where there are the mitigating circumstances of the emergency vehicles.

Why does this matter?

The Police Act 1996 and Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act 2006, makes it an offence to obstruct or hinder certain emergency workers (police, firefighters, ambulance workers and those transporting blood, organs or equipment on behalf of the NHS) who are responding to emergency circumstances. The maximum penalty for an offence under this Act being a level 5 fine, currently up to £5,000.

The highway code states (under section 219) that one should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police, doctors or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue lights and sirens and consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs.

However, there are situations where, at a junction for instance, an emergency vehicle may be stuck behind a driver with its sirens blaring, lights flashing, and horn sounding, and the driver has no appropriate action available to them to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs. They must therefore either sit through the rest of the traffic light cycle (which potentially can be upwards of 3 minutes) hindering the emergency vehicle and wasting valuable time, or move forward over the white line and risk penalty if a red light camera is present.

The law, as it stands only lets a driver pass over a red light if directed to do so by a police constable directing traffic. Doing so is any other circumstance risks a £60 fine and 3 points on their licence if caught by the police or a red light camera. This presents the driver with a moral dilemma; either potentially endanger the life of another by obstructing the emergency services, or be penalised.

Drivers in the situation above should be able to roll forward over the white line at a junction with a red light, or pass through the junction if the situation was such that it didn’t endanger themselves or others without fear of prosecution. The law should therefore be clarified or amended to allow the offending driver to appeal the fine and points in a streamlined fashion when there are the mitigating circumstances of the emergency vehicles.

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