If there’s one thing on the road that all drivers are happy to make room for, it’s an emergency vehicle. But many of Britain’s motorists are unaware that by clearing the road for the blue flashing lights and wailing siren of an ambulance, fire engine or police car, they could be breaking the law.
From bus lane penalties to yellow box junction fines, there are plenty of mistakes that drivers may make when being passed by an emergency vehicle. The Highway Code (rule 219) says: “Consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs.”
To help keep everyone on the right side of the law, we’ve flagged up the five most common mishaps.
Five fails when letting an emergency vehicle pass
1. Driving in a bus lane
Drivers who veer into a bus lane can receive a penalty even if they’re steering clear of an emergency vehicle. Known as a Penalty Charge Notice, it comes with a maximum fine of £90.
Officially, you shouldn’t enter the bus lane at all. If an emergency vehicle needs to pass, it must find its own way through. If you do make room this way, it’s recommended you come to a stop in the bus lane. It may help you dispute a penalty.
2. Driving through a red light
There is only one situation when a driver can run a red light: when directed by a uniformed police officer. In an age of CCTV and safety cameras that capture those jumping a red light, drivers trying to let an emergency vehicle pass could find themselves hit with a TS10, which means three points on their licence.
If the traffic is at a standstill and the emergency vehicle has no way through, it may switch off its siren until the lights change and vehicles are able to safely make way.
3. Entering a yellow box junction
The reason box junctions are filled with bright yellow criss-cross lines is that stopping any part of a vehicle in one is against the law and can result in three penalty points.
However, the Highway Code (rule 174) allows one exception: you may enter the box and wait when you want to turn right, and are only stopped from doing so by oncoming traffic, or by other vehicles waiting to turn right.
4. Don’t exceed the speed limit – even for emergency vehicles
Your car’s rear-view mirror may be filled with dazzling flashing blue lights, but that doesn’t give you the right to exceed the speed limit to get out of their way. Stay calm and maintain the correct speed for the road – or you could trigger a safety camera. The emergency vehicle will overtake you when it’s safe to do so.
5. Stopping on a pavement
The kerb is in place for a reason: to separate the pavement from the road and keep pedestrians and traffic safe from one another. That’s why in parts of the country where a red route or double yellow lines are present, pulling onto a kerb to make way for an emergency vehicle could earn drivers a penalty.