Carfra Lawton LLP | Victoria BC

Limits on the Driving Privileges of Emergency Vehicles

Emergency vehicles do not have free rein in exercising the driving privileges they are accorded. In a judgment released last week, Watkins v Dormuth 2014 BCSC 543 a police officer was held responsible for an accident he caused while responding to a dispatch. Prior to the accident, four police officers in separate vehicles were dispatched to a bait car which had been activated. The plaintiff was driving to work at the time. Two police vehicles with lights on but no sirens passed the plaintiff. The plaintiff anticipated an incident ahead and activated her left turn signal, intending to turn left.

The defendant police officer pulled out of a detachment with the vehicle’s lights and siren activated. The police officer accelerated to around 80 km/h, in excess of the speed limit of 50 km/h. Catching-up with the plaintiff vehicle, the police officer was behind it only for a brief moment before pulling into the oncoming lane to pass the plaintiff vehicle on the left.  The plaintiff had completed a substantial portion of her turn before her car was struck by the RCMP cruiser.

The defendants argued the police officer was entitled to exercise privileges which allow police officers to depart from, or disobey, the ordinary rules of the road. The court concluded the police officer had no basis to exercise any emergency vehicle driving privileges, and even if he was exercising those privileges, he did not drive with due regard for safety in the circumstances of the case.

The defendants further argued the plaintiff was negligent in failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. The court found that the plaintiff was not negligent because she did not have enough time to perceive and react to the police vehicle behind her.

Case summary by: Chelsea Lott