Emergency service drivers responding to 999 calls should not be prosecuted for injuries and even deaths that arise from accidents they are involved in, the Director for Public Prosecutions (DPP) has said.
The review of serious driving offences by the DPP, Keir Starmer, QC, follows the prosecution of a Hampshire police officer earlier this year for dangerous driving.
The officer had been chasing a burglar in a van who crashed into barriers at a level crossing. Although he was cleared emergency drivers expressed concern that their ability to effectively respond to emergency calls was hampered by their fear of prosecution for any accidents they could be involved in.
Starmer highlighted how “police officers, ambulance drivers and firefighters sometimes need to drive in a manner that would not be acceptable for other drivers."
He added: "Those who work in the emergency services need to know that they can respond to an emergency call without fear of prosecution for doing their job."
The DPP was quick to stress that the new guidelines were not a licence for emergency drivers to "act with immunity from prosecution".
If driving is deemed to be “dangerous or indicates a high degree of culpability" then a prosecution would be likely to proceed.
In 2011-12, there were 18 deaths due to police drivers responding to 999 calls. This is the lowest figure in recent years. In 2004-05 there were 44.
Starmer also considered cases in which a civillian driver causes an accident that results in the death of a relative or loved one. He said: “Where someone has killed a loved one as a result of their driving, the decision over whether to prosecute can be extremely challenging.”
An example might be “where a parent’s careless or dangerous driving has led to the loss of their own child, which will inevitably bring with it enormous grief”.
The new guidelines say that in such cases it would not be in the public interest to prosecute.