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Title: Accident with a fire engine!

Date: 09 December 2015

I had a quite nasty accident a few weeks ago with a fire engine. The fire engine was definitely speeding at the time and went through a red light to cause the crash!

One of the firemen who 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? They were the ones driving dangerously and I didn’t do anything wrong!

Alistair, Manchester

The first point to note is that drivers of emergency vehicles owe the same duty of care as any other road user. Whilst 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 that they are immune from liability when they have their lights and sirens engaged.

Section 87 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 states that speed limits do not apply to emergency vehicles where they ‘would be likely to hinder the use of the vehicle for the purpose for which it is being used on that occasion’. 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, as he/she would still have to take reasonable care when driving.

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).

I would need more details to advise further, but in general terms cases such as yours often end on a split liability basis (i.e. both parties being found proportionally responsible for the accident). This is because the Courts perform a balancing act between ensuring that those involved in accidents are not denied compensation, whilst simultaneously seeking to avoid discouraging the emergency services from attending emergencies as quickly as possible.

There are some cases which could provide guidance on the level of split, but ultimately each case will turn on its specific circumstances. As such, witness evidence will be of the utmost importance.

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