17th December 2013
In a five year period up to 2008, traffic accidents in the UK involving ‘blue light’ vehicles from the emergency services caused more than 12,500 accidents, of which, around 1,900 were serious injuries and nearly 190 were fatal.
The problem of ordinary motorists becoming involved in collisions with emergency service vehicles, especially police cars, as they race at high speed and cut a jagged path across traffic lanes and junctions, has raised concern in recent years as accident numbers and injury claims rise.
Speeding Police Cars Ill-Met
By the end of 2010, it was revealed that the Metropolitan Police, Britain's biggest police force, had been involved in a staggering 12,649 incidents - or nearly 12 accidents every single day in the previous three years alone. According to data released under the Freedom of Information Act, collisions in the capital involving the Metropolitan Police killed 22 people and caused casualties totalling 3,015, of which 247 were pedestrians and 135 were cyclists.
While vehicles are on an emergency call (with lights flashing and sirens sounding), they are given a certain latitude with regard to using lanes and reacting to traffic lights. However, drivers are still subject to the law and when negligent driving could cause an accident and injury to other road users.
Accident compensation claims involving emergency vehicles can be particularly complex as the rules and duties associated with emergency response driving differ from those that apply to the ordinary driver.
The most common myth is that an emergency vehicle on a call, such as an ambulance or fire-engine, is allowed to ignore a red light. The reality is the driver of the emergency vehicle must treat the red light as a “give way” sign and must stop to check the road ahead before proceeding. In addition, drivers are not allowed through a junction unless it is safe to do so.
Often a vehicle approaching or stopping near a busy congested junction may simply be unable to see or correctly identify from which of the four directions the sound of the emergency vehicle’s siren is coming from. The motorist may also be unable to either brake or move over to avoid the approaching emergency vehicle, which may also block other traffic.
In past cases, it has been shown that in view of particular circumstances, the Courts will not impose on members of the public a much higher duty of care than would normally be expected of them while they are still willing to be sympathetic to drivers responding to emergencies.