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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, the Minister may have misunderstood my point. I said that competition as to the shortest time to leave in the car was admirable. That could be a matter of 10 or 20 seconds. I was referring to a league table to show the time between leaving for and arriving at incidents. That might be 15 or 20 minutes. I described many variables. That was the kind of competition of which I disapproved.
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I think that I understood the point made. However, when the public call the police they want to see them arrive as soon as possible, taking safety into consideration. That is why the police seek to meet the 15 or 20 minute period depending on whether it is an urban or rural area. That is important. It does not involve a league table. It is a key objective of the
Having dealt with the many issues raised, perhaps I may refer to the point on exemption from road traffic law. In the case of speed limits, Section 87 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 provides that,
The provisions are clearly seen as applying to vehicles involved in pursuits and emergency responses. It should be noted that it gives the police no exemption from anything other than the breach of the speed limit which would otherwise constitute an offence.
The police must be very careful at traffic lights. The limited police exemption is set out in the Traffic Sign Regulations and General Directions 1994. Those provide that when a vehicle is being used for fire brigade, ambulance or police purposes, and the observance of the prohibition conveyed by the red signal would be likely to hinder the use of that vehicle for the purpose for which it was being used, then that restriction should not apply.
However, the restriction is more limited because the regulation goes on to state that in those circumstances the vehicle may go through the red light but should not proceed beyond the stop line in a manner or at a time likely to endanger any person or cause the driver of any vehicle proceeding correctly with the lights to change its speed or course in order to avoid an accident. In other words, it simply gives the driver the right accorded to any driver in the case of a give-way sign. It is up to the driver to proceed with care, bearing all that in mind. The police vehicle has to comply with the regulations in that way. There are similar exemptions and provisions which apply not only to red lights but to pelican crossings and to various light and horn regulations so as to permit the police vehicle to use special lights. However, strict compliance with other road traffic regulations is always required.
I hope that it will be appreciated from what I have said that police officers do not have carte blanche to ignore speed limits or red traffic lights. The exemptions which have been granted to them are very specific, limited and are enshrined in law. If as a result of exercising those exemptions any accident occurs, the police driver is every bit as liable for the consequences as any other motorist using the road. The courts will have to make their own decision where proceedings are brought in the light of particular circumstances.
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