Red light ahead, blue light behind

THE ISSUE of what to do if you’re at a set of traffic lights and there’s an emergency vehicle trying to get through has long been unclear and contentious. Do you stay where you are and risk blocking the emergency vehicle’s way? Or do you edge over the white line, through the red traffic signal, potentially putting yourself in danger, as well as breaking the law?

Providing clear guidance for this specific issue was central to the thinking behind the Blue Light Aware resource, and a great deal of time was put in to consult with the emergency services on what should be said. Rule 219 of the Highway Code gives no specific advice, yet the truth is that it is against the law form anyone to ‘run’ a red traffic light, unless they’re an emergency service vehicle on a blue light run. The requirement is for the emergency vehicle to find its way through, or around other traffic. That’s why, on most occasions, an emergency vehicle needing to make progress across
a traffic light junction would not put itself behind another vehicle in the traffic light queue, but would, where the road layout and traffic conditions permit, move out to present itself and its intention to cross the junction.

Of course, there will be times when there simply is no room for an emergency service vehicle to get past, or perhaps its crew are activated by their control room to respond to an emergency while they are waiting with everyone else at the traffic lights. On these occasions, they know that other motorists are not allowed to ‘jump’ the red light, and the emergency vehicle would ideally not activate its sirens and lights until it was safe for the vehicle in front to cross the solid white line at the junction.

On the (hopefully) rare occasions that a blue light vehicle, in ’emergency mode’,  is sitting behind another vehicle at a red traffic light, it’s important to appreciate that it would be both very dangerous and illegal for the other vehicle to move across the solid white line. The exception to this is that a uniformed police officer can direct a motorist through a red traffic signal. This sometimes happens if a police motorcyclist is part of a ‘special escort’ team and needs to clear and secure a junction, thus allowing a security convoy to pass through the junction.

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  1. This is really useful advise and information and I’m grateful it was included.

    Unfortunately I’ve had a few experiences of situations where I’m not convinced the emergency vehicle drivers were aware of this point. Despite red lights they had used horns and additional sirens, almost as if out of frustration. Hopefully that’s just something that’s in the past.

    Comment by Ian Cooper
    19 May 2011 at 08:57

  2. This depends on whether the service have a policy in place. For example devon and cornwall police and the met have a strict policy that drivers are to stand down sirena and in some cases lights when the vehicles in front are unable to make progress without leaving the road (ie verges and kerbs) or where the vehicle would need to proceed through a red light.

    I live between devon and somerset and avon & somerset police have know such policy and there police drivers (certainly traffic) are more than happy to sit behind you pumping the horn cycling through the siren tones when a vehicle is halted by red light. I have seen myself first hand and so has my roadar group training officier. There needs to a national policy brought in rather than advice videos which some forces don’t agree with.

    I am a police trained advanced driver but not a currently serving and recently even I was stuck in heavy traffic with a ambulance making its way through and for 5 seconds I was the car not in the bus lane clearing a path for the ambulance and after feeling pressured by other drivers and the ambulance I went against all training and moved into the bus lane.

    Comment by James Burge
    20 May 2011 at 20:04

  3. I had an incident before where i was at a red light in a narrow one way street going out onto a main road. A fire engine came up behind me and sirens were still going. I’m glad this video was realeased as i was unsure what to do because there was no space for the engine to go around me and I didnt want to go into a busy main road as I could have been in an accident myself

    Comment by Kat T
    20 May 2011 at 22:01

  4. Whilst just an ‘ordinary’ civilian driver who has seen some disasterous postioning by other members of the public, I welcome this video. It’s something I personally feel ought to be published more widely. What ever happened to those government public information films of years ago? This is very well made too IMVHO.

    I have been the lead car at a set of red lights on a couple of occasions. In both instances I have crossed the white line by one car’s length to enable the driver behind to move over by pulling forward. This in turn has passed up the line, enabling the emergency vehicle to get to the front. I consider this safe to do in most instances as there is normally a bit of ‘dead ground’ that wouldn’t be of issue to traffic comming from other directions.

    As regards bus lanes, perhaps the emergency vehicle should be using the bus lane?
    Whilst I can understand the legal position with regard to red lights and bus lanes and the advice the video is bound to give. I feel there would be a public outcry if it could be shown that someone had died because all the drivers followed the rules and no one would enter a bus lane. Could you imagine the Daily Mail’s take on that? I’d humbly suggest that one has to be practical about these things.

    It’s my own personal observation that the majority of drivers will simply stop without regard for position. This stops all the cars behind them and often snookers the emergency vehicle further back up the line. I feel it’s a shame more emphasis couldn’t be placed on the importance to keep rolling, as forward motion gives the traffic options with regard to position. However, I’d also have to recognise this is only a short video and not a complete driving course. And must therefore, be simplifed to get the most milage out of it, and also be of some benefit to the greatest number of possible.

    Comment by Colin Westbrook
    25 May 2011 at 16:17

  5. As an adult, I’m able to make informed decisions. If its safe to cross the white line, or enter a bus lane, to enable an emergency vehicle past that would otherwise be stuck – why wouldn’t you?

    Comment by Stuart Homer
    25 May 2011 at 19:39

  6. This exact point has also been illustrated several times – ON NATIONAL TELEVISION – when a TV camera was in the cab of an ambulance or other emergency vehicle caught behind civilian drivers at a red light, and the driver of the emergency vehicle could be clearly heard shouting in frustration for the driver ahead to move through the red light.

    I must agree with the earlier comment that there urgently needs to be a national policy – NATIONAL not regional, POLICY not guideline – about this, communicated to all drivers, both of blue-light vehicles and “civilians”. Whether this consists of instructing – INSTRUCTING, not advising – all blue-light drivers to not get cross with drivers obeying the current Highway Code or a change in the Highway Code is not my decision to make, but I would be more than cross if a relative of mine died because everyone obeyed the existing Highway Code when by behaving differently, but safely, a life could have been saved.

    Comment by Ian Gordon
    27 May 2011 at 11:45

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    Comment by Valarie Degroot
    3 June 2011 at 00:07

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