90 days from today is Wed, 03 May 2023
21 July 2021
I wanted to write to you all to highlight the continuing issues we face in terms of the risks associated with driving police vehicles on response mode.
Please click here for the circular issued by our National Federation Secretary regarding driving vehicles with emergency equipment.
Whilst the circular may appear self-explanatory, we as your local Branch wanted to clarify a couple of points, in particular the last sentence in the circular and what this means to you, our members.
The purpose of this clarification is not to tell you how to respond to incidents, pursue vehicles or for you not to use the emergency equipment on vehicles. It is merely to spell out the facts so you can make an informed decision as to whether you choose to use the emergency equipment on a vehicle or not, when armed with factual information…which may surprise you.
You are probably aware the Federation nationally has been campaigning for several years to have legislation changed regarding the protection of police drivers. This is around the fact ANY emergency response driver does not have protection against prosecution for dangerous or careless driving (or any death by offence that involves careless or dangerous driving). The Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill (now the Emergency Response Drivers (Protection) Bill) has been mentioned previously and within that, the Federation has sought to change legislation to protect you to do your job as the public would expect. This legislation has taken 9 years to get to a stage where Parliament have heard the Bill but has now been delayed, yet again.
Pursuits have been inherently difficult to legislate as they quite often fall within the definition of dangerous driving and nationally, we have seen several members prosecuted as a result of ‘doing their job’ and driving to the high standards they have been trained to.
So, the exemptions we are familiar with, travelling over the speed limit, going through a red traffic signal, contravening a keep left/right sign are all legislated in law to allow us drive to an emergency without fearing prosecution.
What we are not protected for is careless or dangerous driving for which we can be prosecuted, and some of our colleagues have been in the past. The Circular refers to a case, R v Bannister. Bannister was a Roads Policing officer driving a high-performance vehicle on an unlit section of the M4 in Wales on a wet night. He reached speeds of 120mph but hit some standing water and lost control of the vehicle, crashing and subsequently writing the vehicle off. Bannister was prosecuted for dangerous driving and was convicted of the offence but was acquitted on appeal. This took over a year to go through the system and the emotional toll was immense. The fact we are trained to a high standard to drive in this manner was not considered by the Judge.
A second case I want to refer to is that of James Holden, a Portsmouth Roads Policing Officer, and the reason for the Federation campaign to get the legislation changed for police drivers.
In 2009 James Holden was involved in a pursuit with an offender who failed to stop for him. The officer ended up in a 20-minute pursuit including the subject vehicle crashing through a railway crossing barrier and which eventually saw the subject vehicle crash. The teenage offender was arrested and interviewed as you would expect. The issue arose when the offender was charged with dangerous driving and the in-car footage from the police vehicle was played. It was argued that if the subject vehicle being pursued was being driven dangerously, then the police vehicle who was mirroring the offenders driving must also have been driven dangerously and therefore, as the Police Officer has no exemption for this offence, he should be prosecuted too. CPS agreed and the officer was charged with the offence. This again took a huge toll on the Officer and he was actually remanded in custody for 20 days having been found guilty by the jury. Following appeals and much deliberation, in 2012 he was acquitted of the charge, two and half years later. Again, the toll placed on him was immense during this period.
These examples are what you might class as extreme end of the spectrum, and thankfully don’t happen often but, what you need to consider whilst driving a vehicle with emergency equipment is that you are 99.9% likely to commit at least an offence of careless driving on EVERY drive, and at the worst you could commit the offence of dangerous driving. This is by the fact your driving would ‘fall below that of a careful and competent driver’ or ‘fall far below that of a careful and competent driver’. The offence is complete, and courts are instructed to use this standard.
There is no consideration taken into account of your driver training (previous case law applies here) and your driving manner is being measured against Magistrates or a jury who are considering, would this manner of driving be considered careful and competent and would I, as a member of public drive in that manner? The answer would always be no, because if we saw a member of public drive in that manner, we would look to prosecute them. This is not referring specifically to a pursuit, just a normal A to B response drive where we cause vehicles to move out of our way or slow down would constitute careless driving The wording of the offence and the lack of protection for ANY emergency driver (so this includes Ambulance, Fire, Coast Guard, Bomb Disposal, NCA…basically any blue light user) means you are committing the offence of careless driving. This is all well and good until you are involved in a complaint from a member of public who over-reacts to your driving, or you are involved in a collision, then any exemption you think you have for speed, red traffic signals etc do not count as CPS will have an appetite to look at the careless driving offence instead.
The final sentence in the Circular states ‘we encourage police drivers to drive within the confines of the legislation and to be aware of the risks of failing to do so'. It is the words ‘drive within the confines of the legislation’ which is important here. To do that, you would need to be exempt from careless and dangerous driving. The sentence goes on to state ‘to be aware of the risks of failing to do so’. These have been outlined above.
We have been asked what if I am given an order to drive on blues and twos? The answer is simple. Only YOU can decide if you wish to respond to an incident using emergency equipment. An order also has to be lawful and therefore asking you to commit an offence, by the likely manner of your driving, means you do not have to comply. We appreciate you have time limits to respond to incidents, but ask yourself the question, is driving on emergency equipment worth the consequences if you do receive a complaint or are involved in a police vehicle collision?
We do not wish to scaremonger or tell you not to respond with emergency equipment to an incident. That has to be your choice and if the worst happens the Federation will continue to support you. But now knowing what the potential ramifications you could face, we would urge you to consider if the job you are responding to is worth points on YOUR driving license and increased insurance premiums as a result, YOUR livelihood if you are disqualified from driving (more so if you have only passed your driving test within two years and receive 6 points on your license), or YOUR liberty if you are given a mandatory custodial sentence for just ‘doing your job’.
Before you turn on the emergency equipment think the 3 ‘L’s – License, Livelihood, Liberty. It applies to you as much as any member of public.’