UK Ambulance Blue Lights | Legal Exemptions & Non-Exemptions

While working as an emergency response driver, you’ll regularly be in situations which are potentially hazardous to yourself, the ambulance vehicle, as well as any passengers you have on board. Since response drivers often need to get to their destination faster than ordinary drivers on the road, exemptions in driving laws are sometimes permitted. As such, there are certain things that emergency response drivers can and cannot do. These are known as ambulance exemptions and non-exemptions, and it’s important that you understand how to approach them if you want to become a successful emergency response driver. Here, we’re going to take a look at the ambulance exemptions and non-exemptions that you need to be aware of.

What are Ambulance Exemptions and Non-Exemptions?

There are a lot of ambulance regulations and emergency services driving regulations that emergency response drivers must follow. However, there are also ambulance exemptions (or emergency services driving exemptions) and non-exemptions. These are changes to usual driving laws which allow emergency response vehicles to get to an incident to treat patients, or to take them to a location where they can be treated (i.e. a hospital). An exemption is a relaxation of driving law when the situation permits it. For example, all drivers on the road are obligated by law to adhere to the speed limit. However, an emergency response driver can be exempt from this law in an emergency so long as they have a justification for it. The key here is that there must be justification for exceeding the speed limit. So, if the road was completely clear, and it was relatively safe to exceed the speed limit in the case of an emergency, then the driver could be considered exempt from the driving law of obeying the speed limit.

Essentially, an exemption from driving laws can usually be claimed by the driver if the driving laws would prevent them from doing their job properly on that specific occasion. So, if the speed limit was going to stop an ambulance from arriving at a scene in time to save someone’s life, then the driver would be exempt from obeying the speed limit.

While there are exemptions to a number of driving laws, this does not mean that you can do whatever you want on the road as an emergency response driver. Not only are there non-exemptions (things you absolutely must not do and cannot be claimed as exemptions), there are also limitations on exemptions such as exceeding the speed limit. Part of an emergency response driver’s skillset is knowing the ambulance exemptions and non-exemptions, whilst also possessing the judgement of when to use them. Let’s take a look at the actions which can be legally exempted.


Legal Exemptions – Ambulance Exemptions and Non-Exemptions

For each of the following exemptions, we will include:
• The name of the manoeuvre/action.
• Considerations to keep in mind when taking the action.
• A reference to relevant legal documentation outlining the law, particularly surrounding ambulance legislation UK.

Legal Exemptions when Dealing with a Patient – Ambulance Exemptions and Non-Exemptions

The following legal exemptions apply when the vehicle has stopped to deal with a patient. They (largely) relax parking restrictions to that an emergency response vehicle can be as close to the patient as possible.

Stopping on a Clearway

• Vehicles may stop on a clearway, provided that members of the response team have protective equipment for leaving the vehicle on a road with flowing traffic.
s.5 Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.

Parking in the ‘zigzag’ area on a Pedestrian Crossing

• Vehicles may park on the zigzag area at a pedestrian crossing in order to keep the vehicle closer to a patient.
• However, doing so may increase the risk to nearby pedestrians as they might not have a clear view of the crossing.
Regulation 27(3)(c) Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2002.

Parking in areas with Double Yellow, White, or Red Lines

• Emergency vehicles may park on double yellow, white, or red lines.
• Drivers should consider where the safest place to park the vehicle is in these zones to keep risk to a minimum.
• Drivers should ensure to leave the area as soon as possible.
Regulation 26(5)(b) Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2002.

Leaving the Vehicle’s Engine Running While Parked

• Emergency response drivers may leave the vehicle’s engine running while parked and attending an incident.
• Drivers must bear in mind whether the vehicle has a ‘run lock’ to keep it secure.
• Drivers must also remember the environmental impact of leaving the engine running.
Regulation 107 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986.

Offside Road Parking at Night Time

• Vehicles may be parked on the offside of the road at night, provided that they keep their headlights off and sidelights on.
• Additionally, hazard warning lights should be left on if the vehicle is potentially blocking traffic.
• Personal protective equipment should be used.
Regulation 101 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986.
Regulation 24 Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989.

Parking on a Footway, Verge, or Central Reservation

• Vehicles may park on footways, verges, and central reservations if this allows aid to reach a patient more easily.
• Drivers need to consider how this may obstruct pedestrians and put them at risk, as well as potential damage to footpaths and the vehicle.
s.5 Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 & s16(d) Motorways Traffic England and Wales Regulations 1981, By-laws.

Legal Exemptions when Engaged in Emergencies – Ambulance Exemptions and Non-Exemptions

The following exemptions only apply when tending to an emergency. This means that, if the situation is not an emergency, these exemptions are not permissible.

Exceeding the Speed Limit – How Fast can an Ambulance Legally Drive?

• The speed limit may be exceeded if it is safe to, such as if the road is relatively clear of other vehicles and pedestrians.
• Drivers must keep a cool head to avoid ‘red mist’.
• Other drivers and road users may not behave in predictable ways.
• A higher speed means that the driver has less time to process information about the road. If there are more hazards on the road, speed needs to be kept lower.
• Rain, snow, and ice will reduce control of the vehicle, especially at high speeds. This can be lethal when not considered properly.
s.87(1)(2) Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (speed) (Amended 2006).

Treating Traffic Lights and Zebra Crossings as a Give Way

• If it is safe to do so, traffic lights may be treated as a give way (i.e. you may pass the red light, but must give way to any traffic).
• The driver must not force other road users into illegal actions (e.g. forcing other drivers to pass the red light).
• Other road users must be aware of the emergency vehicle’s presence before you make this manoeuvre.
• Pedestrians must be given right of way at zebra crossings and traffic lights, even if they are only showing intention of crossing.
• The driver should position their vehicle to indicate the route they intend to take, so that other drivers can prepare.
Regulation 36(1)(b) The Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2002 (red light).
Regulations 33, 34, 35, 36(1)(a), 38 (a/b) Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2002 Motorway.
Regulations 47, 48, 49 Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2002.

Using Audible Warnings (e.g. Sirens) at Night Time

• Emergency vehicles are equipped with audible warning tools such as sirens. However, it might not always be appropriate to use them, particularly during the night.
• Drivers must consider whether audible warnings are necessary. In some cases, they are absolutely necessary so that they can inform other drivers and pedestrians – especially on dark roads.
Regulation 99 Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986.

Passing on the Incorrect Side of Keep Left/Right Signs

• Ambulances may pass on the incorrect sides of areas marked with “keep left” and “keep right” signs.
• This would be an appropriate course of action if obeying the sign would prevent the vehicle from reaching an emergency destination in time.
• This course of action may only be taken if doing so will not cause damage to other vehicles.
• In some cases, the driver may need to justify that there was no alternative but to take this course of action.
• Audible and visual warnings must be used extensively to warn pedestrians and other drivers.
• Speed must be reduced as the emergency vehicle may be faced with oncoming traffic and/or pedestrians.
Regulation 15(2) The Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2002.

Motorway Regulations

• Emergency response drivers may need to take actions and manoeuvres which would usually be illegal on a motorway.
• Traffic on a motorway travels at a much higher speed on a motorway than any other kind of road. Higher speeds = less time for drivers to think and react. This means that emergency response drivers need to be extremely careful when making manoeuvres, since other drivers might not be able to react properly.
• Visual warnings and personal protection must be used.
• The hard shoulder may be used to pass traffic.
• The noise of the siren may be inaudible due to the sound of the road and other vehicles.
Motorway Traffic (England and Wales) Regulations 1982.

Use of Bus Lanes During Operating Hours

• In emergencies, emergency response drivers may use bus lanes – even if they’re in operation by buses.
• This might bring the driver closer to pedestrians.
• During non-operation times, there may be cars parked in the bus lane.
• The bus lane and the street may be shared.
• Drivers should avoid using contraflow bus lanes since this will bring them against oncoming traffic.

Driving into a Pedestrian Precinct

• In some emergency situations, it may be necessary to enter a pedestrian precinct in an ambulance.
• Drivers must ensure that their speed is checked before entering the precinct. This is because there may be pedestrians walking nearby.
• Sirens may not always be suitable, consider alternatives such as the horn.
• Pedestrians must have precedence over the ambulance.
• The ambulance may be blocked by other vehicles such as delivery vehicles.
Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2002.

Non-Exemptions – Ambulance Exemptions and Non-Exemptions

So far, we’ve discussed the legal exemptions that emergency response drivers may use when tending to an incident. However, there’s another side of the ambulance exemptions and non-exemptions that we must consider: non-exemptions.

Non-exemptions are breaches of road laws which are not justifiable under any circumstances. In other words, emergency response drivers must never do any of the following when driving an ambulance, whether in an emergency or not.

List of Non-Exemptions

The following is a list of non-exemptions for emergency response drivers. Under no circumstances can emergency response drivers commit any of the following:

1. Dangerous driving.
2. Dangerous parking.
3. Careless driving.
4. Refusing to stop the vehicle if involved in a traffic collision.
5. Driving without a seat belt.
6. Failing to adhere to a red light at a fire station or level crossing.
7. Crossing a solid white line in the centre of a road unless it is safe to do so (e.g. overtaking a slow-moving vehicle).
8. Failure to adhere to a ‘one-way’ traffic sign.
9. Failure to adhere to a ‘no entry’ sign.
10. Failure to adhere to a ‘stop’ or ‘give way’ sign.
11. Failure to adhere to other instructional signs.


Conclusion – Ambulance Exemptions and Non-Exemptions

You should now have a good idea about what the ambulance exemptions and non-exemptions on the road are, as well as the ambulance rules of the road. There’s a significant number of ambulance driving exemptions. However, it’s worth remembering that these should not be taken unless necessary. Emergency response drivers will need to be able to justify their actions.

Interested in becoming an emergency response driver? Check out How to Become an Emergency Response Driver.

36 thoughts on “UK Ambulance Blue Lights | Legal Exemptions & Non-Exemptions

  1. Dania says:

    What if there is no emergency in ambulance and the driver blocking someone way to park?its happens to me i droped my daughter to school and my other 2 daughters was with me one was not feeling well doing lots of womiting..i was trying to park my car in front of my house but the ambulance guy reply me very rudely..and most important thing there were not written on the van any ambulance sign on the back and side..but there was a sign in front of i didnt see the sign..but any ways there was not any emergency..when he refused to move the van farward(there were lots of space for him)so i parked my car using foot path little bit..and then he straight away leave the erea…i just want to tell you thet emergency vehicle should not misuse emergency vehicle..and they should think that there could be an emergency to following car too..and i think a car with small kids should also be given some space if no emergency..if a patient could be vulnarable then small kids are also vupnarable they need special care..anywayd emergency vehicale not in emeegency should not misuse and should be nice to any one not rude

    • Jacob Senior says:

      Hi Dania,

      Thank you for your comment. It’s correct that an ambulance should not block a driveway if there is no emergency. However, in the case of an emergency, ambulance drivers are permitted to park on driveways if it means that they can get to a patient as quickly and as safely as possible.

      Thank you,

      • Paul Sergeant says:

        If a vehicle is not on the driveway any vehicle by law can block it, however if a vehicle is parked on the driveway only a emergency vehicle on duty can block it.

  2. Amber says:

    Are ambulances allowed to park in a double yellow line if they are only stopping to get lunch? No lights on. Just park their vehicle?

    • Jacob Senior says:

      Hi Amber, thanks for the comment.

      According to the South Western Ambulance Service, which is part of the NHS:

      “Ambulances are allowed to park on white or yellow lines providing they are engaged on official duties, eg it was necessary to park at that point to carry out essential duties or to be as close as possible to the patient they are treating.”

      This suggests that ambulance drivers cannot park on double yellow lines if they’re just stopping to get lunch.

      Thanks for the comment – we hope this clears up any confusion.


      • Jackie Murphy says:

        official duty doesnt neccessarily mean emergency!. If on a long shift they have been granted 5 mins to grab some food and water before the next life saving call morally should there be an issue with this. Before commenting also consider that blue badge holders can be allowed to park on yellow lines, if it is ok for them should it even be questioned for the ambulance crew!!

        • Jacob Senior says:

          Hi Jackie,

          Thanks for your response. Perhaps there is no moral issue with ambulance drivers parking on double yellow lines to get food between saving lives. However, we need to consider what is legal. Double yellow lines are placed for a reason: to prevent the blocking of an entrance-way or road which would cause disruption. Therefore, it follows that double yellow lines should only be parked on in emergency circumstances: such as when the ambulance crew is treating a patient.

          We’d love to hear more of your thoughts on the matter!

          Jacob, How2Become.

        • Katie says:

          Love love love this comment! Well bloody said! I work for the ambulance service and after working hours on end with no time to stop for a bottle of water because you never know when the next call will come in. I’ve been in a cue for a quick cheeseburger starving and a call comes in so you’ve paid and have to leave the order.. stopping and attempting to grab some lunch is completely unquestionably perfectly ok and anyone who questions it is simply Not well and I feel for them.

      • Bruce says:

        As emergency ambulance crews do not get a protected break, this means that they are on call for the entire time they are working. So, technically official duties would be that they are still on call to receive a job if they are grabbing a bite to eat. How many people would be happy to do a 12 hour shift without a break? Sometimes the only time they get to eat is going to the next job.

        • Jacob Senior says:

          Hi Bruce,

          We agree that doing a 12-hour shift without breaks is only for those with the strongest resolve. Since ambulance drivers have such a difficult and important role to play, we believe that they deserve as much patience as possible from pedestrians and fellow motorists. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Gareth says:

    Hi what if the ambulance parked on a double yellow to go in a store to get food whilst not on am emergancy

    • Jacob Senior says:

      Hi Gareth,

      Thanks for your comment. It seems as though ambulance drivers cannot park on double yellow lines if they’re just in a shop getting food. From the South Western Ambulance Service:

      “Ambulances are allowed to park on white or yellow lines providing they are engaged on official duties, eg it was necessary to park at that point to carry out essential duties or to be as close as possible to the patient they are treating.”

      We hope this answers your question.


    • Ambulance Crew says:

      It’s a good idea for the Ambulance to be parked as near to where the crew are, in case an emergency arises. Sometimes double yellows are the closest parking areas and we are still on official duties, even buying lunch, otherwise our portable radios would be turned off and we could relax.

  4. Nick Day HSAS says:

    If a crew park on a double yellow to get food/drink whilst being logged into the terrafix system and on radio comms this meets the “on official duties” criteria as should the be activated they must respond immediately.

    • Jacob Senior says:

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your comment and insight. Even if the ambulance crew are having food, they should be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

      Kind regards,
      The How2Become Team.

  5. Bill says:

    Your comments about exemption to speed limits refers to ‘no more than 20mph over’, but I cannot see that confirmed in the legislation – s.87(1)(2) Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (as amended). Can you clarify if you have included some ‘policy’?

    • Jerry says:

      There is no limit stated in the Road Traffic Act. You may exceed statutory limits if adhering to them would impede or obstruct your progress in an emergency. The “20mph” thing is an agreement between ambulance trusts and the Police if caught on a camera. The Police will not question or process these if the vehicle is within 20mph of the limit. Over that, they may question it with the Trust but, unless the speed is determined as dangerous or wholly inappropriate, they will not prosecute as there is absolute exemption under the RTAct. An example would be doing 60mph in a 30 zone outside a school at 4pm so questions could be asked. There is less risk at 4am and the road is empty so less likely to be processed.

  6. Paul hollies says:

    Hello I was involved in a rta with a ambulance what happened I was in a single one way rd and I was turning right back onto the main rd as I turned the ambulance came up the outside of me on the chevrons. Hiting my van on the side it as it’s lights going but no sound as I was turning I didn’t see it as it was in my blind spot who is at fault with this one

    • Jacob Senior says:

      Hi Paul,

      We’re sorry to hear about the accident, we hope you’re okay. However, we don’t have the authority to comment on who is at fault here – this will be determined by your insurer.

      Kind regards,
      The How2Become Team.

  7. david baylay says:

    I live in Newbury and it is a daily occurrence for ambulances to speed around our public roads with lights and sirens going. I was informed this was because the crews were undergoing training and not attending emergencies. Is this legally permitted?

  8. Andy says:

    Hi. Yes this is legally permitted. The crews have to gain real life experience in this area. All blue light drivers have to take a one month course which include road traffic law (not Highway Code) and emergency driving but only after weeks of non emergency training. Some trainers do notify the local police that they will be training on blue lights on set days. The trainers are highly competent instructors and should a potential dangerous situation arise the driver will be stood down and return to normal driving. There are multiple exams and assessments during this month of training and believe me it’s not easy and not everyone passes. Hope this helps

  9. meddcoambulance says:

    Thank you for sharing. Very Informative. In case of a road accident, you can book an Ambulance Online with Medco Ambulance APP Service!

  10. Linda says:

    Hi, I have a query about ambulance parking. Our small private housing complex has a car park which exits onto a fairly narrow residential close. After turning out of the car park into the close I found that there was an ( emergency) ambulance parked in the middle of the road while dealing with a patient in one of the houses. Cars park on one side of the road, so the road was entirely obstructed. It was almost an hour before one of the crew came out and moved the ambulance slightly further up the road, thus allowing cars to move out of the close once more. Obviously the patients welfare is the primary concern, but a crew sometimes needs 40 + minutes to stabilise a patient before moving them to hospital. However, the ambulance could have parked 25 meters round to the main part of the road and caused no obstruction. Does this constitute “ dangerous” parking in your opinion?

    • Jordan Cooke says:

      Hi Linda,

      It is our understanding that, if there is an emergency incident, the ambulance crew will always do their utmost to park in the most sensible place near to the location, to afford them easy access to the patient. Unfortunately we cannot pass comment on individual medical situations.


      The How2Become Team

  11. wendy jackson says:

    Man in wheelchair calls police because amubulance has parked in empty disabled space to attend 999 call – life threatening asthamtic attack and obstructs ambulance on blue light leaving.

  12. Stephen Harris says:

    Can a Private ambulance, even though NHS approved, use the hard shoulder of a motorway, to pass slow moving traffic?

    • Gemma Butler says:

      Hi Stephen, if they are responding to an emergency then they are permitted to use the hard shoulder.

  13. Ray says:

    At a cross juction i have a green light, the junction on the left is on red is an ambulance on blues and twos does the ambulance have right of way?

  14. Gordon says:

    Is there an agreement with insurers that an emergency vehicle approaching traffic stopped at red traffic lights from behind can be held responsible for an accident one of the stopped cars has if it tries to move out of the EV’s way?

    • Gemma Butler says:

      Hi Gordon, that’s a great question. In the UK you should always follow the highway code when allowing emergency service vehicles to pass so you should only let them past if it is safe and legal to do so. You cannot pass a red light even if an emergency service vehicle is behind you – in most instances the emergency service vehicle will turn off their lights/sirens to alleviate any pressure on drivers at red lights feeling they need to move.

  15. Chris Richardson says:

    Are ambulance drivers aware of the space needed by cyclists, and the dangers of cars moving over from the carriageway to the cycle lane without checking for a cyclist in the mirror? Been nearly knocked off my bike a couple of times because of this.

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