Giving way to emergency service vehicles

Bus lane fine fear threatens emergency services response times

One in 10 drivers would not go into a bus lane to let a fire engine, ambulance or police car through

One in 10 drivers would not go into a bus lane to let a fire engine, ambulance or police car through

One in 10 drivers would not go into a bus lane to let a fire engine, ambulance or police car through – even if the sirens were wailing and the beacons flashing.

That rises to one in six (17%) in London, AA-Populus research reveals.

A fear of fines means that, although 13% of the 18,026 AA members surveyed would not stop in a yellow box junction to allow emergency vehicles to pass, nearly one in five (19%) Londoners wouldn’t. London is the only part of the UK where yellow box junctions have been enforced with cameras.

Many UK cities fine drivers £60 (£30 if paid within 14 days) for entering a bus lane. In London, the penalty charge is £130, halved for early payment. Drivers in London face the same if they stop in a yellow box junction.

Red lights and speed limits

More drivers are prepared to carry out riskier manoeuvres to help emergency vehicles on their way, with 48% prepared to go through red lights and 31% to exceed the speed limit, although they lay themselves open to prosecution by the police.

Overall, 39% wouldn’t worry about bus lanes, red lights, box junctions, speed limits, or pulling up on to the pavement if an emergency vehicle needed to get past.

most AA members and other drivers will risk the chance of a penalty charge to save a life

Edmund King, AA President

A risk to save a life

“Drivers think: ‘But for the grace of God go we – because, the next time, that emergency vehicle could be for us’. And that is why most AA members and other drivers will risk the chance of a penalty charge to save a life,” says Edmund King, the AA’s president.

“In return, too many bus lane, yellow box junction and moving traffic offence enforcers will seize the opportunity to dish out a penalty charge. Inevitably, some drivers won’t take the risk and it only takes one to block and hold up an ambulance or fire engine.”

“The firms and councils operating enforcement cameras say that they take the presence of an on-call emergency vehicle before issuing a penalty notice but, too often, that’s not the case.”

Failed to exercise discretion

Examples where enforcers failed to exercise discretion and give drivers the benefit of the doubt for getting out of the way of an emergency vehicle:

Bradford »

Oldham »

Glasgow »

Manchester »

Bristol »

Sussex police advice

If you encounter an emergency vehicle on the road

Stay alert to approaching emergency vehicles - you'll often hear them before you see them so keep the music low enough to hear warning sirens. Keep an eye on your mirrors too.

Locate the vehicle and determine its route - when you hear the sirens or see flashing lights, try to locate the vehicle and consider the route that it may take.  Take any appropriate action to let it pass, but be careful not to contravene any traffic signs or rules of the road.

Emergency vehicle drivers are specially trained and have exemptions to the law -   you must not go through red lights or speed to allow them to pass.

Don't panic or brake suddenly - this could slow the progress of the emergency vehicle, and put yourself and other road users in danger.

Pull over if you can - if you are able, pull over to the side of the road, indicating beforehand and keeping any eye out for pedestrians and cyclists. Don't pull over on or near to a hill, bend or narrow section of the road.

Don't mount the kerb - unless you absolutely have to and, even then, only if you are certain that you won't put pedestrians at risk.

Wait before entering a roundabout - if you are approaching a roundabout allow the emergency vehicle to reach, navigate and leave before you enter the roundabout yourself.

Wait before exiting a side road - if you are about to emerge from a side road, stay where you are until an emergency vehicle on the main road has passed, even if you can only hear it at this point. Don't take chances, it will be difficult to judge their speed.

Move to the nearside - on a dual-carriageway or motorway you should move over to a nearside lane by signalling your intention and merging with vehicles already there.  Don't cut in front of other vehicles, they may not yet be aware of the approaching emergency vehicle.

On a road with double white line system - if the line nearest you is solid, maintain a safe speed and do not exceed the limit.  The emergency vehicle will remain behind and may turn off the sirens or lights.  If you can safely pull off the road, signal your intention and then pull off.  Otherwise wait until the white lines change priority, or end, then find a place to stop, slow down or pull over to allow the vehicle to pass, being sure to signal your intention first.

Bear in mind there may be more than one - after the emergency vehicle has passed check there are no more vehicles coming before you continue - there may be more than one going to the same incident. Wait until it is safe to do so, then indicate as necessary and rejoin your route.

Enforcement of bus lanes

Some cities have sought to clarify their enforcement of bus lanes, for example Nottingham City Council advises the following:

There are a small number of reasons when it is OK to enter a bus lane during the time it is in operation. Among these are;

  • when directed to do so by a police officer in uniform
  • to avoid a collision or debris in the road
  • to drop off or pick up a passenger
  • owing to circumstances outside the control of the driver
  • to enter or exit a driveway to a roadside property

In all cases it is expected that the stay in the bus lane is as brief as possible.

When a vehicle is observed to undertake a vehicle turning right into a side road, by using a bus lane during its time of operation, the Council will treat each case on its merits and try to adopt a common sense approach. The driver of such a manoeuvre should ensure that the route back out of the bus lane is clear before undertaking. In most cases the discretionary 20 metres distance will not be exceeded.

The AA Populus survey was conducted between 10 and 19 June 2014

(21 October 2014)