A few weeks ago I had an accident with a fire engine. The vehicle was definitely speeding at the time and went through a red light, causing the crash. One of the firemen I spoke to afterwards told me that I wouldn’t be able to claim because they had their ‘blues and twos’ on and so the accident must have been my fault. Surely this can’t be right? I didn’t do anything wrong.
Answered by Andrew Campbell, Solicitor and author of the MCN Law column.
The first point to note is that drivers of emergency vehicles owe the same duty of care as any other road user. While the extent of the duty is interpreted differently because drivers of emergency vehicles can, under certain circumstances, be excused for driving extremely, this does not mean they are immune from liability when they have their lights and sirens engaged.
Regulation 36 of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions is worded similarly, and effectively allows emergency vehicles to treat red lights as give way signs. Neither of these rules automatically absolves the fire service’s driver from any responsibility though.
For your part you would likely be criticised for failing to keep a look out for emergency vehicles (see section 219 of the Highway Code).
In general terms cases such as yours often end on a split liability basis. This is because the courts perform a balancing act between ensuring that those involved in accidents are not denied compensation, while simultaneously seeking to avoid discouraging the emergency services from attending emergencies as quickly as possible.
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