Road traffic accidents involving emergency response vehicles

Neille Ryan

Partner & Head of Personal Injury

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June 14, 2023

Categories Personal Injury Claims

After a recent spate of media reports on accidents involving emergency vehicles, I thought it would be helpful to summarise the law which applies to claims for compensation in such circumstances.

Emergency vehicles travelling under ‘blues and twos’ (blue lights and sirens) are exempt from the usual requirements to stop at a red traffic light, to travel within the speed limit and to overtake on the wrong side of a keep left bollard.

However this is not a ‘get out of jail free card’. The driver must be able to show that obeying the normal rules would likely hinder the response to the emergency and they must still exercise a great deal of skill and care, particularly when performing manoeuvres which would not be permitted for normal road users.

There isn’t a hard and fast rule establishing blame in these circumstances – it really does depend on careful scrutiny of the accident circumstances and evidence. This will include the (these days almost inevitable) emergency vehicle dashcam and telemetry data, as well as that emergency service’s driving policies and training.

The lead case on liability in emergency vehicle accidents used to be Griffen v Mersey Regional Ambulance, a 1997 Court of Appeal decision 60/40 in favour of the emergency response driver. But as I said above, it is important to carefully scrutinise the events of the accident – Mr Griffen didn’t hear or see the ambulance which collided with him, nor did he note the actions other motorists were taking around him to allow the ambulance through.

More recently Courts have tended to favour the victim in these types of accident.

But victims have responsibilities too.

Section 219 of the Highway Code tells drivers to:-

  • Look and listen for emergency vehicles using flashing lights (and sirens).
  • When one approaches do not panic.
  • Consider the emergency vehicle’s route and take appropriate action to let it pass.
  • If necessary pull over, ideally in a safe place.
  • Do not endanger yourself, other road users or pedestrians and avoid mounting the kerb.
  • Do not brake harshly.

The onus is on the driver of the emergency vehicle to justify jumping a red light, speeding or passing to the right of a bollard and that they did so as safely as they reasonably could, following their employers’ procedures and their training.

What happens if an emergency vehicle hits you?

Firstly, respond in the same way as you would any accident. If anyone is injured, report the accident to the Police and call an ambulance if necessary. If safe to do so, take photographs of the accident scene. You should also obtain the details of the vehicle driver – name, address, telephone number and vehicle registration number. This can be difficult if the emergency vehicle is responding to an emergency call however, you can contact the relevant emergency service to advise them of the accident and they can then identify the driver.

How can I claim?

If you have been injured in an accident involving an emergency vehicle, then you may be able to claim compensation for your injuries. We will assess your prospects of success at the outset and whether or not we can run your case on a no win no fee basis. The vast majority of our clients instruct us no win no fee and you can learn more about this by visiting this page >

Time limits on your claim

The time within which you must bring your claim is restricted – known as your ‘limitation period’. If you haven’t either settled your claim or commenced Court proceedings to protect it within the limitation period then your chances of being allowed to pursue the claim are slim to non-existent.

Generally speaking, the limitation period is 3 years from the date of the accident however there are some exceptions. One example would be where the accident victim is under the age of 18, the 3 years do not start to until their 18th birthday and so the claim must either be settled or Court proceedings issued, by their 21st birthday.

For further information about personal injury claims and road traffic accidents claims, contact Neille Ryan on 01227 763939.