Road policing

Police driving

Each year, the police service responds to many incidents or requests for urgent help from the public or police colleagues. Police officers respond to these incidents and requests using different types of vehicle, and are required to negotiate challenging road environments and conditions.


Marked police vehicles, whether being driven in a response mode or at other times, attract public attention and scrutiny. Officers and police staff using unmarked vehicles are expected to conduct themselves in the same professional manner as officers and police staff using a marked vehicle. Use of legal exemptions are an everyday occurrence and, where applied, the driver must be able to readily and proportionately justify their actions in the pursuance of their duty.

The police service uses the national decision model (NDM) to assist operational officers, planners, advisers and commanders to manage their response to a situation in a reasonable and proportionate manner. The NDM provides a framework that can be applied ethically and with integrity to all driving decisions and actions and can be used to justify decision making when responding to incidents. There may, however, be occurrences where a police driver’s behaviour or their decision making is called into question. The public, police officers and police staff need assurances that, where necessary, driving incidents are investigated with a fair and balanced approach to the circumstances, taking into account the driver’s skills and the relevant legal requirements while applying the NDM and Code of Ethics.


With pressure on resources, the police service is required to work increasingly across geographical and organisational boundaries. This places additional burden on police drivers to:

  • embrace new technologies in order to keep ahead of criminality
  • remain adaptable and resilient.

Evidenced based innovation is therefore encouraged and will be used to update standards as appropriate, through subject matter expert networks and working groups.

Strategic governance

National policy for police driving is set by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) driver training lead. The development and maintenance of driving-related national learning standards and materials is the responsibility of the College of Policing, with support from the national strategic group, (chaired by the national police driver training lead) and the practitioners group.

Legal framework

The law in respect of response driving

The law, as defined in statute by the Road Traffic Act 1988, prohibits dangerous and careless driving. This applies to police officers as well as the public. Police officers must exhibit the care and skill of a competent and careful driver, the standard by which an officer’s driving is judged. This is confirmed by the High Court in the ruling from the case R v Bannister (2009) EWCA Crim 1571.

The court ruled that if the special skill of the driver is taken into account in assessing whether driving is dangerous, then it must follow that the standard being applied is that of the driver with the special skills and not that of the careful and competent driver, as the standard of the careful and competent driver is being modified.

Driving skills

However, police officers are regularly expected to attend immediate response calls to help the public or deal with ongoing road related incidents.  To do so in line with duty, officers are required to extend their driving skills beyond that of a careful and competent driver.  These heightened skill levels are provided through nationally approved driver training standards which are governed by the College of Policing.  Where there is a departure from the legal standard, then in line with the DPP’s guidance to CPS for emergency service driving personnel, officers or those involved in the delivery of higher level driver training, must be able to show justification, proportionality and necessity for their actions and decision making based on the circumstances of the incident or nature of the role they are performing.

Police officers should not be punitively treated where public interest requires a justified emergency response, or operational demands are such that officers have driven in accordance with the NDM and whilst correctly applying their driving skills in line with their training because of the legal situation which exists under the Bannister judgement.

The service has a duty of care to provide training to support officers executing their response duties, and to keep the public safe. Officers are required to implement national driving standards as set out in the driving training learning programme. These standards provide a robust mechanism to ensure officers are supported to carry out driving duties at standard and advance levels. Officers must drive responsibly, taking into account proportionality and necessity and within the confines of their level of driver training and the immediacy of the incident being attended.

Note: the ambiguity raised by the Bannister ruling has been acknowledged and is currently being addressed with the Home Office.

Legal exemptions

Statutory services and/or other organisations prescribed for by the Department of Transport are afforded specific exemptions in law to undertake their duties.

The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016 exempt emergency vehicles from:

  • observing speed limits
  • observing keep left/right signs
  • complying with traffic lights (including pedestrian controlled crossings).

Police drivers may find themselves considering the contravention of signs and regulations where no statutory exemption exists. In each case, decisions on such matters rely on the professional judgement of the officer involved (linked to the NDM). Their decisions must be supported by the legitimacy of their actions based on operational necessity and the practical options available. Even where a statutory exemption exists, an officer must always give due regard to their driving manner and behaviour which should not put other road users or members of the public at a risk which cannot be justified.

When exercising the exemption to pass a red traffic light, drivers of emergency response vehicles should avoid causing a member of the public to contravene the red light. The public do not have an exemption in law to contravene red traffic lights.

Only drivers who are trained to the appropriate national standards are entitled to make use of legal exemptions. It is essential that the legal exemptions used are appropriate and their use in specific circumstances can be justified. There is no legal definition of what would or would not constitute justification for making use of police exemptions. In all considerations the NDM should be applied.

Health and safety

Because of the high-risk environment, policing responsibilities and the potential for serious injury and fatalities, all staff operating on the strategic road network should be familiar with, and have completed training which meets, the requirements of the College of Policing’s national learning standards for policing the strategic road network.

The following risks factors are associated with the policing of roads:

  • exposure to inclement weather conditions for long periods of time
  • collisions when dealing with incidents
  • high stress levels from attendance at traumatic incidents
  • manual handling involved at scenes and debris incidents.

The following risk control measures must be implemented by forces:

  • adequate training which meets national standards to enable officers to work effectively and safely
  • the provision of clothing and/or approved equipment with instruction on its correct use (consider force policies)
  • incident briefing and debriefing
  • confidential stress management and occupational health provisions
  • risk assessment of all vehicle usage both operationally and for training.
Marked police vehicles must be fitted with high conspicuity markings as recommended by the Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST), formerly known as the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB). Emergency lighting must be fitted to these vehicles as recommended by HOSDB High Conspicuity Livery for Police Vehicles (Publication 14/04).
Unmarked training vehicles that are used to facilitate covert response or pursuit training are expected to be fitted with covert lighting and, preferably, matrix signs that can be used to make the vehicle easily recognisable. Training and learning promotes specifics around driving safely, taking into consideration the potential response from the public.
Forces should ensure that training vehicles/machines carry sufficient, well-maintained equipment, suitable for dealing with incidents on the types of roads they are training on.

Police driving training

The Roads Policing and Police Driving Learning Programme (RPPDLP) sets out national learning standards for police driving. It consists of a framework of integrated modules and units that together represent a whole programme. The required national driving skills and competencies are applicable consistently across forces. When transferring between forces, staff may need to become acquainted with unfamiliar vehicles, equipment or any local procedures or policies relating to vehicle use. Each force must have a designated strategic lead at chief officer rank who is accountable for compliance with the delivery and provision of driving standards and the national driver training programme.

The RPPDLP provides:

  • a framework for continuous professional development
  • consistency and standardisation across the range of training activities
  • standardised national procedures and terminology for roads policing
  • a conduit for the dissemination of good practice in response to lessons learnt.

Police driver trainers

All police driver trainers must meet the College of Policing’s trainer standards. They must also have undertaken a course of instruction and learning as set out within the national Police Driver Trainers’ Learning Programme (PDTLP), which appears in the College of Policing’s learning standards. Continuing professional development (CPD) must be undertaken to maintain the standards set out in the PDTLP.

Quality assurance

To maintain credibility and integrity, the delivery of driver training national standards and the corresponding quality assurance process must comply with the Police Service Quality Assurance Scheme (PSQAS)

Goals for driver education

In respect of standard/response and advanced driving, the goals for driver education represent an essential appreciation of how to structure and understand more clearly what competencies a safe driver needs and how well they perform. Driving tasks can be described within a hierarchical framework of behavior/conduct, competencies and decisions in a varying number of situations at different levels within a range of driving situations. Recognising risk is something that underpins driver education. It is important that a driver is aware of how physical influences through road conditions affect a vehicle and its handling and that a driver is cognisant of a vehicle’s controls and handling characteristics.

Poor driver attitudes and behaviours may undermine the reputation of the police. The following factors may be influential:

  • medical conditions
  • stressful situations
  • operational pressures
  • fatigue
  • traffic situations
  • driving at night-time
  • driving in difficult weather situations.

Police drivers should notify supervisors if any of these factors affect them. It is important that police drivers are able to dynamically self-assess their actions and performance. This helps them to meet the changing circumstances and pressures they face in their decisions and actions, especially when driving to incidents, working extended hours or during pursuit situations.

Police drivers may fall short of standards because of human failings and can require a considered or bespoke intervention within the structure of police driver training in order to address areas of development. A mechanism should be in place to allow supervisors to identify and discuss performance issues with the driver/rider.

Driver/rider levels and vehicle categories

There are three levels of police driver/rider:

  • basic
  • standard/response
  • advanced.

In addition to these, there are also specialist police vehicles and roles that are set out in the Roads Policing and Police Driving Learning Programme.

Basic – for employees with DVLA full category B driving licence/category A motorcycle licence.

A basic police driver/rider:

  • is on the first step of their police driving career
  • requires a relevant induction package commensurate with their role and organisation procedures but no necessity for on-road driving assessments
  • is required to meet the standard expected of a careful and competent driver within the law
  • is able to meet driving at work requirements
  • must only drive within the constraints of the Highway Code
  • is not permitted to drive any police vehicle in a situation that might involve the use of legal exemptions – use of legal exemptions requires appropriate driver training.

Where a basic driver is required to drive other categories of vehicles, eg, commercial vehicles, and holds the requisite licence, the service/force must provide the relevant induction and familiarisation to ensure that the health and safety requirements for driving at work are met. This may not require on-road driver assessments, but the driver induction should cover the specific characteristics pertinent to the category of vehicle(s).

It is a matter for force policy to decide whether an individual requires additional coaching from a member of the force driver training team on specific areas of driving or police operations to improve their knowledge, or for basic drivers to be able to carry out additional requirements during the course of their duties as basic level police drivers.

Where police officers or police staff are permitted to use liveried fleet operationally, it is for the local force to determine whether additional training is provided to enable the use of auxiliary lighting equipment for safety and scene/public protection. The use of emergency equipment to facilitate progress through a traffic holdup is deemed to be response driving and outside the scope of a basic driver.

Where police officers or police staff are permitted to use operational liveried vehicles, it is for the local force to determine whether training should be provided to permit the stopping of compliant drivers.

Standard/response – driver/rider trained to a standard to enable them to respond safely to incidents requiring the use of legal exemptions.

A standard/response driver:

  • must have a category B/A DVLA licence as a prerequisite
  • is permitted to drive low to intermediate performance vehicles
  • is not expected to use unmarked police vehicles to ‘respond’ in a pursuit situation – if this is permitted by a force, an appropriate risk assessment must be in place and a suitable level of training provided commensurate with operational requirements.

Emphasis is placed on safety, achieved by the driver having an increased general awareness of vehicles handling and performance, as well as the ability to recognise real and potential hazards and to adopt a system of driving as set out within the relevant learning standards.

Advanced – driver/rider trained to a higher level than standard/response enabling them to drive high performance vehicles operationally.

The focus for advanced police driving/riding is to develop existing competencies and skills to a higher level than that expected in the standard/response module.

Advanced drivers/riders are predominantly deployed in a roads policing patrol vehicle, an armed response vehicle or unmarked police vehicles used by surveillance officers.

Driving skills, as with any other skills, may deteriorate over time or with lack of use. This may particularly be the case with more advanced skills. Therefore, where enhanced skills are required as part of daily or periodic use those skills require regular assessment and/or refresher training. See lapse in authorisation to drive.

Categories of police vehicle

The National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM) and the College of Policing use a calculated assessment to determine a vehicles overall performance which deliveries a final Performance Value (PV) enabling categorisation of Response and Advanced cars, Motorcycles, and Vans up to 3.5t.

An explanation of the assessment and calculation method can be found here.

Performance Values

Cars and Vans (up to 3.5 t)

Category Response Advanced
Performance Value (PV) 3.2 PV and above Below 3.2 PV

In respect of police motorcycle specifications, the following NAPFM and College of Policing machine categories apply:


Category Response Advanced
Performance Value 2.2 PV and above Below 2.2 PV

A basic police driving authorisation allows police officers and staff to drive any vehicle of the above categories commensurate with their driving duties and in accordance with the limitations placed on basic driver permits.

In the event that any driving qualification, police vehicle classification or vehicle use requires clarification, advice must be obtained from the force driver training lead in conjunction with the head of fleet. The overriding factor in any decision will always be safety as well as ensuring compliance with legislation and the College of Policing Roads Policing and Police Driving Learning Programme.

This APP relates to the use of police vehicles for operational purposes. The use of hire/lease vehicles is a matter for force policy.

Management of police drivers and occupational road risk

Driver training fleet

It is strongly recommended that the driver training fleet should match the operational fleet to maximise learning, to overcome frontline user familiarisation requirements, and because vehicle design and advanced vehicle aided technology change rapidly. This approach is supported by the Health and Safety Executive’s driving at work guidelines which state:

‘You should ensure that self-propelled work equipment, including any attachments or towed equipment, is only driven by workers who have received appropriate training in the safe driving of such work equipment.’

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires all employers who engage their staff to undertake on-road work activities to ensure the health and safety of their employees while at work so far as is reasonably practicable.

While recognising the specific responsibilities of individual chief constables and senior managers, it must be remembered that all personnel have a responsibility for health and safety at work and as such have an important role to fulfil in the implementation and application of this legislation.

Clothing and equipment

Officers and staff must ensure that they have the recommended clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE) suitable for use in any operational scenario they may encounter during any:

  • prescribed driver training course
  • incident that they may reasonably be expected to deal with as an operational resource.

Medical conditions/standards

Every driver of police vehicles has a responsibility to declare any medical situation or condition that may affect or prevent them from undertaking any police-related driving duties safely or within legal parameters and there is an expectation that drivers will comply with this responsibility.

Eyesight standards and medical guidelines derived from the Association of Local Authority Medical Advisors (ALAMA) panel should apply to all police drivers. It is a recommended that standard/response and advanced drivers should meet the DVLA group 2 medical standards and that these standards apply irrespective of any other disability. Any questions over the ability of an individual to meet these standards of medical fitness for emergency response driving must be referred to the relevant force department for a professional medical opinion.

Lapse in authorisation to drive

An officer trained and authorised to either advanced or standard/response driver/rider level, and who is deployed within a role where those training levels are neither used nor required, reverts to the level below after 12 months, ie, advanced reverts to standard/response and standard/response reverts to basic. This may follow a period of restricted duties which may be due to medical reasons or a posting to a role not requiring driving at either standard/response or advanced level.

If subsequently required, the previous training and authorisation level can be restored at any time following successful completion of a driving assessment or refresher training.

Continuing professional development

All police drivers should undertake continuing professional development (CPD). A CPD specification is currently under development.

Record keeping

Forces must maintain a record of the following for all authorised drivers:

  • personal details
  • driving licence
  • driving authorisation
  • training
  • collision/damage data.

Key police driver principles

Police vehicle drivers/riders must not drive beyond their own or their vehicle’s capabilities. Police drivers/riders have a personal and legal obligation to ensure that they are licensed to drive the class of vehicle to which they are assigned.
Before driving any police vehicle, the driver must ensure they have authority from their force, by whatever local procedure applies, to drive that vehicle.
It is the responsibility of any driver assigned to a police vehicle to ensure, as far as can be reasonably expected, that the vehicle is in a roadworthy condition before it is taken onto public roads.
Drivers of police vehicles must refer to the manufacturer’s or force’s handbook to ensure they are familiar with the controls, auxiliaries and operating systems prior to driving. For police operational staff, this includes on-board technical equipment and operation of emergency warning equipment.
Before driving or towing vehicles with specialist equipment, drivers must ensure they are confident and competent in taking the vehicle onto public roads. Where any doubt or uncertainty exists, the driver should seek assistance or guidance from their force driver training unit and/or technical help from the force vehicle engineering staff.
When a driver identifies a vehicle defect, it must be brought to the attention of the local fleet workshop in accordance with local procedures. Not every defect requires immediate suspension of the vehicle from service. It is a matter of common sense and proportionality to decide the scale or circumstances of a defect as to whether a vehicle should be driven or not.

Parking of police vehicles on a road

Care and attention to parking restrictions should be observed and complied with. There will be exceptions where parking a police vehicle contrary to parking regulations or restrictions is required and necessary to deal with incidents, including scenes of collisions. There can be no legitimate excuse for ignoring restrictions unless it can be justified. Inconsiderate or illegal parking of police vehicles may result in negative press reporting and may adversely affect public perceptions. Where an officer or staff member receives notice of enforcement for breach of any such regulation or restriction, they must take personal responsibility for the outcome unless they are able to justify their actions.

Post collision/incident review

The police driver training strategy must always seek to promote public confidence in the way in which police fleet is used. Where driving standards fall below the accepted principles it is incumbent on the force to identify, review and act proportionately in any post-collision investigation and/or intervention. All driver training leads are expected to be cognisant of emerging police collision/incident reviews following internal investigations, court proceedings, coroner’s rulings, or recommendations made following IPCC reviews.

Practitioners and strategic driver training leads must bring to the attention of the NPCC lead any examples of emerging threat, risk or harm that need to be reviewed and/or actioned at a national level (eg, changes to APP or the national learning standards). All such information will be regularly disseminated through the NPCC lead and the College of Policing as part of curriculum and programme maintenance.

Police pursuits

Police pursuits APP including the tactics directory details issues relating to police pursuits and sets the standards that should be adhered to.

Emergency response

Officers are deemed to be in an emergency response when they are using emergency warning equipment to facilitate progress, at which time they may make use of exemptions afforded to them by legislation. There may be occasions, depending on time of day, circumstances and events, which are deemed unsuitable or inappropriate for the use of emergency warning equipment. Where a driver drives in an emergency response or at high speed without emergency warning equipment, it is for them to justify the decision and give a reasonable account as to why the warning equipment was not used.

Navigation devices/Airwave and vehicle recording equipment

While it is recognised that police driving standards are subject to a high level of scrutiny and attention, the increasing expectations to use mobile technology, data communications systems and other forms of electronic equipment while driving raises a number of issues likely to be in conflict with expectations for members of the public when they are driving.

The College of Policing driver learning standards now incorporate the use of such devices as part of the course curriculum.

Page last accessed 21 October 2021