Detailed in this section are the emergency vehicle light colours used in the UK and the types of vehicles that are associated with a particular colour.
Other than a vehicles directional indicators or a green anti-lock brake warning light (if fitted), it is illegal for any vehicle to show a flashing coloured light unless authorised. For vehicles authorised to use blue flashing lights, no other formal qualification is required other than the driver’s licence. However, the majority of emergency response organisation drivers receive emergency driving training.
Blue flashing lights are the main colour associated with emergency services in the UK. Blue flashing lights are the most visible at night, though perhaps not quite effective during daylight hours.
Other colours may be used on emergency vehicles to highlight visibility, in particular police cars that may use flashing headlights (white) and flashing red lights on the rear of the vehicle to indicate it has stopped. Emergency vehicles that use blue flashing lights (beacons) are:
- Police, ambulance and fire service – (to include paramedics on motorcycles, private fire or emergency ambulance services, but not private security)
- Fire salvage team
- Forestry Commission or local authority when fighting fires
- HM Coastguard
- Mountain rescue
- Cave rescue
- Bomb disposal (military or civilian)
- Nuclear emergency or armament support
- Special forces that are responding to a national security emergency
- Blood transfusion service (National Blood Service or Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service vehicles including organ transportation)
- Coal Authority responding to mine rescue
- HM Revenue and Customs when investigating serious crime
Doctor on emergency call. Any vehicle used by a medical practitioner registered by the General Medical Council either with limited, provisional or full registration. This grants no privileges or exemptions from traffic laws.
Unlike blue flashing lights, amber lights grant no priority in traffic and are used to solely to emphasize a vehicle, often due to being a hazard. Vehicles that use amber flashing lights include:
- Road / highway maintenance vehicle which includes any equipment or apparatus that is deemed hazardous
- Road clearing vehicle
- Refuse collection vehicle
- Breakdown recovery vehicle
- Vehicles with a maximum speed of less than 25 mph (including its trailer) and escort vehicle when used below 25 mph
- Vehicles with an overall width exceeding 2.9 metres
- HMRC fuel testing vehicle
- Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA)
- Surveying vehicle
- Statutory immobilisation or removal vehicle
Other than certain emergency response authorities detailed above, red flashing lights are not used on vehicles within the UK. Red flashing lights are not common throughout Europe, though in some countries such as Finland, Estonia, Germany and Sweden, they use a forward-facing red light to indicate that a driver must pull over and stop.