County MPs urged to support change in law for police response drivers
Leicestershire Police Federation chairman Tiff Lynch is urging local MPs to back a new bill which seeks a change in the law for police response drivers.
Norfolk MP Sir Henry Billingham will propose a new Ten-Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons on 19 December after a campaign to better protect police drivers led by Tim Rogers, national Federation lead on pursuits and deputy secretary at West Midlands Police Federation.
Under current law, officers responding to emergency calls or engaging in pursuits could be prosecuted for driving offences, just like any other motorist. They are judged on the standards of careful and competent drivers who, for example, would not be going through red lights and crossing the wrong side of the road.
Tim explained: "Police officers, despite their advanced driver training, can be prosecuted for doing the job they are employed to do and, just as importantly, the job the public would expect them to do in terms of serving and protecting their communities.
"I have witnessed police officers and their families go through unimaginable turmoil for years, through no fault of their own. The training to which they exercise their duties should be given due recognition - we must better protect those who we all rely on."
Leicestershire Police Federation is committing its full backing to the proposed new legislation and is encouraging local MPs to do the same. "We have written to Leicestershire's MPs and asked them to support the bill wholeheartedly," says Tiff.
"The current law is clearly impractical, unworkable and needs to change. We must offer as much protection as possible to officers who face some very tough decisions. Far too many of our members have found themselves accused of driving carelessly or dangerously when they have simply been doing their job, carrying out their duties to fight and prevent crime and protect their communities.
"We have made great strides forward in recent months and the bill being put forward on 19 December could lead to a change in the law by introducing an exemption for police and other emergency service workers who currently find themselves judged by the standards of a careful and competent driver and charged with careless driving under the Road Traffic Act.
"Currently, emergency response drivers do not have a power authorising them to drive through a red light, speed or to carry out the necessary manoeuvres they often need to perform as they go about their duties serving our communities. The definitions of careless and dangerous driving are very wide. Careless driving is driving that falls below the standard of the competent and careful driver; not the careful and competent response trained driver."
Tiff continues: "Emergency response vehicles typically drive on the wrong side of the road and/or through red traffic lights. That type of driving falls below the standard of the careful and competent driver. The fact that police officers and other emergency response drivers are highly skilled is irrelevant in law. This bill seeks a much-needed change of the law.
"These proposed changes do not give officers any kind of blanket exemption to do what they like. All risks taken must still be justified in the same way that the use of force must be justified in other situations. But we are very keen to see suitable changes to the law to offer greater protection to our officers."
The proposed wording for the change in the law is:
"When a vehicle is being used for fire brigade, ambulance, bomb or explosive disposal, national blood service, rescue or police purposes, or for a purpose connected with the National Crime Agency or for Naval Army of Air Force purposes when the driver is a member of the Special Forces, the driver may depart from the standard of the careful and competent driver (or cause another to do so) if and only if;
a. driving the vehicle in accordance with road traffic regulations would be likely to hinder the use of that vehicle for the purpose for which it is being used and;
b. any such departure is reasonable in the circumstances as the responder reasonably believed them to be and;
c. the departure was proportionate to the circumstances as the responder reasonably believed them to be and;
d. the driver has undergone or is engaged in, specialist driver training in accordance with S19 of the RSA 2006.
e. In deciding whether the departure was reasonable, the following should be taken into account- so far as is relevant:
i. A driver reacting to circumstances as they occur may not be able to judge to a nicety the exact measure of any necessary action required ii. Evidence of a driver having only done what the driver honesty and instinctively thought was necessary in the circumstances constitutes strong evidence that any departure from the relevant standard was reasonable.