Do you know what green, red, amber or blue flashing lights really mean? Find out who’s driving and if you need to let them pass.
Here’s a quick guide to who could be driving vehicles with flashing lights and if they command priority on the road.
Remember, how you react to these vehicles could help save lives – or land you with a large fine.
Blue flashing lights
The use of blue flashing lights – or blue lights of any type – is reserved for emergency vehicles.
Who can use blue lights: Blue lights are exclusively reserved for emergency services.
These include police, firefighters and ambulance, but also the likes of search and rescue, bomb disposal and human organ transport.
There are many other emergency services that legitimately use blue lights. Not all vehicles will be marked, but the majority will have official livery.
It’s illegal for emergency service personnel to fit blue lights to personal cars.
Do I need to let them pass when safe to do so: Yes, but only when safe to do so. Do not put yourself or other road users at risk.
The following video gives advice on what to do if you meet emergency vehicles in various motoring situations.
When can blue flashing lights be used: The operation of blue lights is restricted to vehicles responding to an emergency, or at the scene of an incident.
There have been reports of crooks fitting blue lights to cars and impersonating undercover police officers. Here’s our guide covering what to do if you believe this is happening to you.
What about cycles: Legislation, tweaked in 2005, made it an offence for members of the public to fit blue lights to cycles.
Red flashing lights
Can red lights be fitted to vehicles and, if so, who by and when can they be used?
Who can use them: Along with blue lights, police, ambulance and fire vehicles often have red flashing lights.
Do I need to let them pass when safe to do so: When an emergency vehicle is attending an emergency you should always let them pass when safe to do so. However, see below for more information on red flashing lights.
When can red flashing lights be used: Typically, red flashing lights are only used by stationary emergency vehicles to help warn other road users of a hazard.
Red flashing lights could also be used during a large police escort and serve as a warning telling other drivers not to overtake.
Green flashing lights
Not as common as blue light vehicles, but drivers will also need to be aware of those with green lights.
Who can use green lights: Green warning lights can be fitted to a vehicle being used by a medical practitioner who is registered by the General Medical Council (GMC).
Other community first-responders – or members of the public – are not permitted to fit or use green lights if they are not registered to the GMC.
Do I need to let them pass when safe to do so: Green lights offer no exemption from traffic rules, or provide any priority over other road users.
Most doctors only use green lights in an emergency, so pulling over when safe to do could improve outcomes for patients.
When can green flashing lights be used: Green lights can be used when a GMP-registered practitioner is using the vehicle. The lights will be used to help the doctor reach a patient in need of urgent assistance.
Amber flashing lights
You’ll see many vehicles sporting amber lights, but who can use them and do they offer any exemptions?
Who can use amber flashing lights: Slow-moving vehicles and the likes of salt spreaders, or recovery vehicles should use amber lights as a warning.
Vehicles being used on unrestricted carriageways must operate amber lights if they are unable to exceed 25mph.
However, it is not illegal to fit these lights to a private vehicle, even if it does not fit any of the above.
Do I need to let them pass when safe to do so: No. Amber lights offer no exemption from traffic laws or priority over other road users.
Exceptions are DVSA and Highways England Traffic Officers (HETO) who use flashing amber lights when stopping a vehicle.
When can amber lights be used: The light must be used when a vehicle that can’t exceed 25mph is driving on an unrestricted carriageway.
The DVSA and HETO must use them when stopping a vehicle.
There are no restrictions as to when other road users can fit or use amber flashing lights.