Glossary of terms

Here are some of the words, phrases and organisations often linked to emergency driving. Remember, we’re not lawyers, so the information provided below is purely general and descriptive, rather than offering a precise definition. However, we hope you will find it useful.

Ambulance
A vehicle designed to carry sick and injured people to (and from) hospital.

Association of Chief Police Officers
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is an independent, professionally led strategic body. In the public interest and, in equal and active partnership with Government and the Association of Police Authorities, ACPO leads and coordinates the direction and development of the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In times of national need ACPO, on behalf of all chief officers, coordinates the strategic policing response.

Audible warnings
Equipment fitted to, or carried by, an emergency vehicle, which is additional to any equipment (such as headlights) that a standard non-emergency vehicle is fitted with. These warnings are more commonly referred to as ‘sirens’ or ‘horns’ or ‘two-tones’.

Battenberg markings
The pattern of high-visibility markings used to maximise conspicuity, primarily used on emergency vehicles. The name comes from their similarity in appearance to the cross-section of a Battenberg cake.

Bend
A bend is a non-straight section of road. Some bends on country roads are smooth and even, while others can be tight and ‘blind’, meaning visibility around them is restricted or non-existent. The advice from the emergency services is not to stop on a bend if you are trying to allow a blue light vehicle through.

Blood vehicle
The blood services are responsible for moving human blood around the country. They coordinate the collection of people’s blood and its subsequent transportation. Some services are charities that use volunteers; other services are run by the NHS. Vehicles belonging to the National Blood Service or Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, and certain other blood-carrying vehicles, are classed as emergency vehicles and may use blue lights.

Blue Light
Blue lights are displayed by emergency vehicles. When activated, they may rotate or flash to warn other road users.

Bomb disposal
Vehicles used by the police or military for bomb disposal work are permitted to use blue flashing lights and are classed as emergency vehicles.

Brow of hill
Because of the restricted view for a driver going up a hill, the advice from the emergency services is that you do not stop on the brow of a hill if you are trying to allow a blue light vehicle through. Keep going until the emergency driver has a better view and can pass you more safely.

Bus Lane
Be careful before moving into a bus lane to allow an emergency vehicle through, as it may be dangerous or illegal (or both) for you to use the bus lane.

Chief Fire Officers Association
CFOA is the professional voice of the UK fire and rescue service, supporting members to fulfil their leadership role in protecting local communities and making life safer through improved service delivery. Providing professional advice to inform government policy, CFOA is committed to developing both strategic and technical guidance and sharing notable practice within the wider FRS. Membership of the Association comprises almost all the senior management of fire and rescue services in the United Kingdom. CFOA is the driving force in managing change and implementing reforms in the service.

Coastguard
HM Coastguard is classed as an emergency service and is permitted to use blue lights on emergency response journeys.

Doctors’ exemptions
Vehicles carrying doctors, responding to emergency calls, may display a green flashing light. BASICS doctors use blue lights and audible warning devices when responding to medical emergencies.

Driving Standards Agency
The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) is one of the executive agencies that form the Motoring and Freight Services group, part of the Department for Transport. It is a trading fund with a planned turnover of around £200 million in 2010-11, funded almost entirely through fees and revenue from other road safety initiatives. It is a national organisation delivering tests from over 400 practical driving test centres/multi-purpose test centres and around 150 theory test centres. It has statutory responsibility for setting standards and conducting theory and practical driving tests.

Emergency Response Driver Training
Blue Light and Emergency Response Driver Training is provided, in accordance with guidance from the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) to emergency service drivers (typically police, ambulance and fire service drivers). Other organisations using this sort of training are typically HM Coastguard, Mines Rescue and Mountain Rescue.

Emergency vehicle
An emergency vehicle is typically a vehicle designated and authorised to respond to an emergency. These vehicles are usually operated by designated agencies, often part of the government, but also run by charities, non-governmental organisations and, in the case of ambulances, some commercial companies. Emergency vehicles are exempt from certain rules of the road (speed limits, red traffic lights and ‘keep left’ bollards).

Exemptions
Emergency vehicles are typically exempt from certain rules of the road (speed limits, red traffic lights and ‘keep left’ bollards).

Fire appliance
A fire appliance, engine, truck, or pump is a vehicle designed to assist in fighting fires and other rescue emergencies by transporting firefighters to the scene and providing them with access to the fire, along with water or other equipment. Fire engines and fire trucks can in some areas represent different types of firefighting apparatus.

Green light exemptions
Vehicles responding to emergencies, carrying doctors, may display a flashing green light. However, they have no specific exemptions from road traffic law. The green light is simply a way of asking other road users as a courtesy to let them through.

Highway Code
The Highway Code is the official road user guide for Great Britain. In Northern Ireland, the Highway Code for Northern Ireland applies. The Highway Code contains numbered rules and annexes covering pedestrians, animals, cyclists, motorcyclists and drivers. Advice covering emergency vehicles can be found in Rule 219. As well as the rules and annexes, there is information on road signs, road markings, vehicle markings and road safety. The annexes contain information on vehicle maintenance, licence requirements, documentation, penalties and vehicle security.

Human Tissue for Transplant
Human Tissue for Transplant is classed as an emergency service and is permitted to use blue lights on emergency response journeys.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
HMRC vehicles used for investigating serious crimes may use blue lights.

Indicators
You should consider using your indicators to show you’re pulling over for an emergency vehicle, but only when there’s no risk of causing confusion to other road users.

Junction
If you’re approaching a junction, and you see an emergency vehicle, remember the driver behind you may not have the same view, so don’t brake suddenly. If you’re already AT the junction, be patient and wait for the emergency vehicle to come past.

Kerb
Don’t mount the kerb if giving way to an emergency vehicle. Apart from the potential danger to pedestrians, you may risk causing damage to your tyres, wheels and hub caps.

Law
Section 87 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 exempts drivers of vehicles used for fire brigade, ambulance or police purposes from speed limits in an emergency.

Lifeboat Launching Vehicles
Lifeboat launch vehicles are classed as an emergency service and are permitted to use blue lights.

Mines Rescue
Mines Rescue is classed as an emergency service and is permitted to use blue lights on emergency response journeys.

Mirrors
Check your mirrors frequently on road journeys, as in a well insulated and soundproofed car, you may see a blue light vehicle before you hear it. Check your mirrors frequently for any signals the emergency vehicle may be giving. This will help you understand where it wants to go. Of course, if it’s a police vehicle in your mirror, look carefully, as it may be signalling specifically for you to stop.

Motorcycle
Emergency service motorcycles using blue lights include police, ambulance and even some fire and rescue service solo responders. Some blood transfer motorcycles use blue lights on emergency journeys to and from hospitals.

Motorway
On motorways and dual carriageways, stay behind a blue light vehicle to avoid the risk of becoming involved in an incident it is attending. Give any responding vehicle plenty of room, and follow it at a safe distance.

Mountain Rescue
Mountain Rescue is classed as an emergency service and is permitted to use blue lights on emergency response journeys.

National Blue Light Users’ Conference
The Annual National Blue Light Users’ Conference is aimed at all those who manage or train drivers who, during the course of their work, drive emergency vehicles. It is also relevant to those who manage health and safety and occupational road risk issues for all staff within the emergency services and those who are involved in casualty reduction. Over the years the Conference has become an important event in the diary for the emergency services, and has gained a reputation and credibility with Government and its agencies and other organisations concerned in any way with the emergency services.

Pavement
If you’re making room for an emergency vehicle, do not go up onto the pavement. Apart from the potential danger to pedestrians, you may risk causing damage to your tyres, wheels and hub caps.

Police officer
Only a police officer in uniform can direct you through a red traffic signal. At a traffic light junction, an emergency driver shouldn’t expect or want you to go through a red light. If you’re first in the queue at a red light, the only advice we can legally give you is to stay where you are, then let the emergency vehicle find its way around you.

Police vehicle
Police vehicles include cars, motorcycles, vans and trucks. Some police officers using bicycles, typically those in cities, may have blue lights and audible warnings attached.

Prosecution
Members of the public have no immunity from prosecution if, while attempting to give way to an emergency vehicle, they commit a moving traffic offence (such as going across the stop line at a red traffic signal, or speeding).

Red Cross
Ambulances belonging to the Red Cross are equipped with blue lights. Blue light journeys by the Red Cross typically occur when the Red Cross has been subcontracted by an NHS Ambulance Trust.

Red traffic signal
Don’t go through a red traffic signal in an attempt to assist an emergency driver. It is highly dangerous, and also you will have no defence in law if you are subsequently prosecuted, however noble your intentions.

RNLI
Lifeboat launch vehicles are classed as an emergency service and are permitted to use blue lights. Vehicles driven by lifeboat crews to reach lifeboat stations are not classed as emergency vehicles, therefore the use of blue lights is not permitted.

Roadcraft
The police drivers’ handbook, which forms the basis for all advanced driver training.

Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984
Section 87 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 exempts drivers of vehicles used for fire brigade, ambulance or police purposes from speed limits in an emergency.

Roundabout
If you’re approaching a roundabout, and you see an emergency vehicle, remember the driver behind you may not have the same view, so don’t brake suddenly. If you’re already AT the roundabout, be patient and wait for the emergency vehicle to come past.

St John Ambulance
Ambulances belonging to the St John Ambulance are equipped with blue lights. Blue light journeys by the St John Ambulance typically occur when they have been subcontracted by an NHS Ambulance Trust.

Siren
Another name for an ‘audible warning’, as fitted to emergency vehicles. Listen for different siren tones, and changes from one tone to another on the approach to junctions and roundabouts.

Slow moving vehicle
Some ambulance journeys must be carried out a slow speed, because of the nature of the injury to the person being transported. In these circumstances, blue lights may still be used. Be sure to give a slow moving ambulance plenty of room.

Solid white line system
Emergency drivers have no exemption in law to overtake other vehicles in solid white line systems (other than the exemptions we all have – see Highway Code Rule 129).

Speed limit
Most emergency vehicles have exemptions to exceed speed limits.

Stop
A police officer in a vehicle (marked or unmarked) behind you displaying a blue light could be telling you to stop. Look carefully for specific signals from the officer, then pull over and stop as soon as it is safe to do so.

Temporary Traffic Lights
The rules for red lights are the same at a set of temporary traffic lights as they are at permanent traffic light junctions. Don’t go through a red traffic signal in an attempt to assist an emergency driver. It is highly dangerous, and also you will have no defence in law if you are subsequently prosecuted, however noble your intentions.

Warnings
The warnings used by emergency vehicles typically consist of blue flashing lights and a variety of audible tones, including the well-known siren ‘wail’, the ‘yelp’ and the ‘high-low’ two-tone warning sound.

Zebra crossing – advice for pedestrians
At a zebra crossing, or other road crossing, if an ambulance, fire engine, police or other emergency vehicle approaches using flashing blue lights, headlights and/or sirens, then keep off the road.