We are often asked where people stand on fitting blue, green or amber lights to their vehicles. Many people find the regulations difficult to read and interpret and are unsure about the use of lights on their vehicles. Because of this, we have put together a summary of the regulations in straightforward English!
The subject areas covered are…
- Changes Made in 2011
- Changes Made in 2010
- Changes Made in 2005
- Blue Light Exemptions
- Emergency Vehicle Definition
- Summary of Lighting Rules
- When Flashing Lights Can Be Used
- Preserved Emergency Vehicles
- Lifeboat Crew Members
- Retained Firefighters
- Ambulance Community First Responders
- Animal Ambulances
- Blue Light Driver Training
- Legal Documents
Changes Made in 2011
The main change introduced in 2011 was that vehicles used by military special forces (including the SAS) are permitted the same dispensations as police emergency vehicles. This means they can use blue lights and sirens and can disregard speed limits and other road signs when safe. The Special Forces can only use these powers when attending a matter of urgent national security. This change is shown in the main document below where appropriate.
Changes Made in 2010
A number of small changes were made to the lighting regulations in 2010. These are shown in the main document where appropriate, but are summarised here.
Changes to Mountain Rescue:
- Mountain Rescue vehicles are officially classed as an emergency vehicle in their own right. Previously they operated as vehicles used for ambulance purposes.
- Mountain Rescue vehicles can use blue flashing lights and sirens.
- Mountain Rescue vehicles classed as ambulances (used mainly for transporting injured people) can operate as ambulances and have a range of exemptions from the rules of the road, including speed limits.
- Mountain Rescue vehicles used for non-ambulance purposes (such as personnel transportation, equipment supply or control unit) can use blue lights but do not have exemption from speed limits.
Changes to Battenberg markings (on the side of vehicles):
- Police can use blue, yellow, white, amber
- Fire can use red, yellow, amber
- Ambulance can use green, yellow, amber, white
- DVSA (was VOSA) can use yellow, amber, silver, white
- HETO (was HATO) can use yellow, amber, white
Changes to Chevron markings (on the rear of vehicles):
- Police, Fire, Ambulance, DVSA (was VOSA) and HETO (was HATO) can all use red, yellow and orange.
A number of small changes were made to the lighting regulations in 2005. These are shown in the main document where appropriate, but are summarised here.
- Emergency vehicles no longer have to have a motor (e.g. cycles)
- Anyone can use flashing lights on their cycles (1-4 flashes per second, equal amount of time on and off, usual colours)
- Cycles with lights in the pedals or attached to the wheels are now permitted
- Revenue and Customs are allowed to use blue flashing lights when investigating serious crime.
- An abnormal load escort vehicle is defined and allowed to use amber flashing lights above 25 mph
- Officially authorised vehicle examiners can drive a vehicle on the road which does not have the correct lighting if it is going to or returning from a test, and they don’t believe the defects are dangerous.
There is no authority that issues permission to use blue, green or amber lights on your vehicle. You must just follow the law.
Any driver can drive using blue lights without needing any higher qualification that a driving licence. Most services do insist on their drivers undergoing some form of advanced driver training though, and there are moves to establishing a national standard.
While using blue lights, drivers are exempt from a number of motoring regulations, including
- treating a red traffic light as a give way sign
- passing to the wrong side of a keep left bollard
- driving on a motorway hard shoulder (even against the direction of traffic)
- disobeying the speed limit (police, fire and ambulance services only)
However, they are not allowed to
- ignore a ‘no entry’ sign
- ignore a ‘stop’ or ‘give way’ sign
- drive the wrong way down a one-way street
- ignore flashing signs at level crossings or fire stations
- cross a solid white line down the middle of the road*
*except in the same circumstances as everyone else (for instance to pass a stationary vehicle, slow moving cyclist or horse, or a road maintenance vehicle). This can cause problems for emergency drivers when other road users slow to let them pass where road markings indicate no overtaking.
Sometimes emergency vehicles may need to disobey other signs and regulations. This will depend on the professional judgment of the driver.
An emergency vehicle is classed as a vehicle used:
- for police purposes (but not necessarily a police vehicle, e.g. search and rescue)
- for fire brigade purposes (but not necessarily a fire brigade vehicle)
- for ambulance purposes (but not necessarily an ambulance vehicle, e.g. cave rescue)
- as an ambulance for moving sick, injured or disabled people
- by a specialist company for fire salvage work
- by the Forestry Commission for fire fighting
- by local councils for fire fighting
- for bomb disposal
- for nuclear accidents
- by the RAF mountain rescue
- by the National Blood Service
- by HM Coastguard
- for mine rescue
- by the RNLI for launching lifeboats
- for moving around human organs
- by Revenue and Customs for serious crime
- for mountain rescue purposes
- by the military special forces (e.g. The SAS) for a national security emergency
An abnormal load escort vehicle is classed as:
- A vehicle that is clearly marked so the public know it is for escorting abnormal loads. It must have something written on the front and reflective markings on the sides and back.
In the regulations, lights, reflectors and reflective material are all classed as lights on cars (this means that the public cannot have blue reflective graphics for example).
Any colour light is OK to be on a vehicle if it is covered up or not connected up (excluding blue).
Only emergency vehicles can be fitted with a blue flashing light, or anything that looks like a blue flashing light, whether working or not.
Some of the rules do not apply if the vehicle has just been imported or is about to be exported, or if it is a visiting foreign vehicle.
You can’t have a red light showing at the front except:
- a red and white chequered light on a fire service control vehicle
- a side marker
- a reflector on the wheel of a cycle, motorbike or invalid carriage
- a traffic sign attached to the vehicle
You can only have a steady white light to the front and a steady red light showing to the rear of your vehicle. The exceptions to this are:
- flashing from an emergency vehicle
- flashing or constant from a police vehicle
- on a doctor’s car
- reversing lights
- work lamps
- any vehicle’s indicators
- amber pedal reflectors or pedal lights
- reflected from a registration plate
- reflected from a road clearance vehicle
- reflected from a vehicle carrying dangerous substances
- reflected on some old or heavy vehicles
- flashing amber lights on
- a road clearance vehicle
- a bin lorry
- a breakdown vehicle
- a vehicle with a 25 mph top speed
- a vehicle wider than 2.9 metres
- a roadworks vehicle
- an escort vehicle
- a Revenue and Customs vehicle
- a surveying vehicle
- a clamping or tow truck vehicle
- airport vehicles
- any other specially authorised vehicle
- for interior lighting
- for registration plate lighting
- for taxi meter lighting
- for bus route sign lighting
- from a traffic sign attached to a vehicle
- any colour from the reflectors on a wheel of a cycle, motorbike or invalid carriage
- white and blue chequered light from a police control vehicle
- white and red chequered light from a fire control vehicle
- white and green chequered light from an ambulance control vehicle
Any flashing warning beacon that rotates must be mounted 1.2 meters above the ground.
You must be able to clearly see one or more flashing warning lights from any ‘reasonable’ position around the vehicle
There are no restrictions on the size of the beam of light, wattage or intensity.
Each warning light should flash between 1 and 4 times per second and spend an equal amount of time on and off (meaning strobes are not covered).
You can’t have a moving light on a vehicle except for:
- headlamp fine adjustment
- a light which turns with the steering wheels
- pop-up headlights
- indicators on old vehicles
- work lamps
- flashing warning lights
- reflectors on the wheels of cycles, motorbikes or invalid carriages
You can’t have a flashing light except for:
- headlights on an emergency vehicle
- flashing lights as described above (on emergency vehicles and vehicles permitted to show other coloured flashing lights)
- a light or sign on a vehicle used for police purposes
- a green light used as an anti-lock braking indicator
- lights on a traffic sign attached to a vehicle
- flashing white lights on the front of a cycle
- flashing red lights on the back of a cycle
All lights should be of British Standard
All lights for normal night driving should be switched on by one switch (including headlights, side markers and rear registration lights).
To use a vehicle that that doesn’t go above 25 mph on a normal dual carriageway you need to fit an amber flashing light. It is OK if you have a very old car or are just crossing the dual carriageway.
Your front and rear lights (including indicators and rear reflectors) must be visible when all the doors, bonnet, boot or similar are open.
You can’t have objects overhanging your vehicle greatly without fitting extra lights or warning signs to them.
All your lights need to be clean and working. Reflectors just need to work. The exceptions to this are when:
- the light does not need to be seen because you are towing a trailer which has lights
- a light has just stopped working on your current journey
- you have tried everything reasonable to fix it
When Flashing Lights Can Be Used
The only times when you can use your blue flashing light are when you are:
- at the scene of an emergency
- responding to an emergency
- wanting to let people know you are there
- wanting to let people know that there is a hazard on the road
The only times when you can use your amber flashing light are when you are:
- at the scene of an emergency
- wanting to let people know you are there
- at or near an accident or broken-down vehicle
- towing a broken-down vehicle
- escorting a very long or wide vehicle (below 25 mph, unless you are in an abnormal load escort vehicle)
- have special authority
The only times when you can use your green flashing light are when you are:
- using the vehicle for an emergency and have a doctor on board
Preserved emergency vehicles are not officially permitted to have blue lights attached to them when on the road, even if they are completely covered up and inoperable. Usually common sense prevails and if there is no way of being able to see the blue light unit then the police are happy. In 2008 a petition was created to change this law to the ‘common sense’ definition.
We are often asked by lifeboat crew volunteers if they can fit blue lights to their private cars to get to the lifeboat station quickly when they are alerted to an emergency by pager. The simple answer is no! The only land-going vehicles allowed to have blue flashing lights in this situation are RNLI vehicles specifically designed for the launching of a lifeboat. There are often tractor-type vehicles with the capability to drive into water. Other private lifeboat services are not permitted blue lights, unless being used for a dual purpose, e.g. an ambulance. Crew members are not permitted to use any other colour of warning beacon either. It would not be appropriate to use amber lights as this situation falls outside of the definition of amber light use (see above) and would not speed the journey up at all. One legal alternative is to have a sign on the car to indicate the driver is part of the lifeboat crew. This does not permit any exemptions from road traffic law but does convey the intended message.
We are often asked by retained firefighters if they can fit blue lights to their private cars to get to the fire station quickly when they are called out to an emergency. The simple answer is no! To be permitted to use blue lights, the private car would need to be registered as an emergency vehicle, have insurance as an emergency vehicles, be approved for use by the fire brigade and the driver suitably trained to drive using blue lights. This situation is unlikely to be commonplace. No other colour of flashing light is allowed. One legal alternative is to have a sign on the car to indicate the driver is part of the fire brigade. This does not permit any exemptions from road traffic law but does convey the intended message. It should be noted however that senior fire officers are often given company cars fitted with blue lights as part of their job to respond to major incidents outside of their normal working hours.
We are often asked by first responders if they can fit blue lights to their private cars to get to calls quickly when they are called out to an emergency, particularly heart attacks and people who’ve stopped breathing. The normal answer is no, but to be sure speak to your local scheme coordinator. To be permitted to use blue lights, the private car would need to be insured as an emergency vehicle and be approved by the ambulance service. The ambulance service would also require the driver to be trained to run on blue lights. By the design of this service, responders should not have to travel far to emergency calls. During the journey to the emergency they have no exemptions of road traffic law.
Some ambulance services (including private ones) supply responders with a liveried-up car for their work. This may help other road users to see that an emergency response is in progress. In a small number of cases, community responders who are suitably trained are granted permission to use blue lights by individual ambulance services. In the former Staffordshire Ambulance Service area, responders were given vehicles fitted with blue lights but this was criticised by a Healthcare Commission report.
We have been asked a number of times about animal ambulances using blue flashing lights. When used on private land this is usually permissible, for instance at a racecourse with the organiser’s permission. However the lights should be covered up when on the road. The transportation of sick or injured animals does not fall into the definition of an ambulance for the purpose of the lighting regulations. Occasionally police will permit blue lights to be used on the road when being escorted by a police vehicle also showing blue flashing lights.
Some animal ambulance companies have an understanding with the local police that they can show blue light (switched on or not) on their vehicles. It is recommended that a formal Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) is written up and signed by both sides to help reduce the chance of a prosecution for incorrect lighting. This agreement would then only be valid in the local police force area, and not in any other part of the country.
Police, fire and ambulance vehicles are allowed to use a sirens or similar audible emergency warning devices. Other specifically mentioned permitted users are bomb disposal, blood service, coastguard, mine rescue, RAF mountain rescue and lifeboat launching vehicles. In 2005 the regulations were changed to allow the Ministry of Defence’s nuclear response team and Revenue & Customs to use sirens too.
Emergency services can use the normal horn or the siren when stationary and at night, unlike the restrictions of a normal car horn.
Some devices that are similar to sirens are allowed on non-emergency vehicles. These include car alarms, reversing alarms and chimes on ice cream vans.
Information about sirens comes from The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 (Part II F 37 and Part IV E 99) & The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2005.
There is no requirement for people driving emergency vehicles to be trained beyond a normal driving licence. Drivers of police, fire and ambulance vehicles who wish to be exempted from speed limits will be required to be officially trained. This rule has been included in a 2006 Act but it has not yet been made law. At present there is no indication as to when it will be made law. There are concerns that there will be too much demand for the existing driver training courses.
The full details can be read in Section 19 of the Road Safety Act 2006 which will amend Section 87 of the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984 (see links below).
The full legislation on lighting is available to view on the website of the Office of Public Sector Information (formerly HM Stationary Office). Below are the links to the relevant parts of the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations:
The information on this page is provided in good faith to give an overview of current legislation. Parts remain crown copyright. We cannot be held responsible for any mistakes or misinterpretations that exist or for any action taken after reading this.Share this with