This page has been written for the purposes of legal education. Its purpose is to present in a general and simplified manner the law in force in Quebec concerning police powers and duties, your obligations as citizens and advice when you consider that a police officer is driving a vehicle recklessly or indiscriminately. Its content should therefore not be construed as legal advice or advice. To find out the specific rules or advice appropriate to your situation, consult a lawyer.
What should I do when I see an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens activated?
When an emergency vehicle approaches your vehicle and its lights or sirens are activated, you must :
- Yield the right of way;
- Reduce your speed;
- Move as far to the right as possible;
- Stop, when required, to ensure the safe passage of the emergency vehicle.
If you do not respect these rules (articles 406 and 406.1 of the Highway Safety Code), you are liable to receive a ticket.
Are police officers exempt from the Highway Safety Code when driving an emergency vehicle?
As drivers of an emergency vehicle, police officers and other peace officers have certain powers or are exempt from following certain rules, including :
- road signals, including traffic lights
- prescribed speed limits on public roads
- the requirement to use turn signals to indicate an intention to turn, make a U-turn, change lanes, etc;
- the prohibition of successive zigzag overtaking;
- prohibition on passing in the opposite lane approaching and through an intersection;
- prohibiting passing on the right;
- prohibiting the stopping of a vehicle :
- on a sidewalk
- on a controlled access roadway
- at a location prohibited by a sign;
- prohibition of :
- obstructing traffic;
- rendering signaling ineffective.
In addition, drivers of these vehicles may use an electronic device such as a cell phone while driving at any time.
Under what circumstances are police officers exempt from these rules when driving an emergency vehicle?
Drivers of emergency vehicles are exempt from these rules when they are in one of two situations:
- Emergency driving. They may, under certain circumstances, drive in an emergency situation where there is a potential for loss of life and serious injury. In this case, they must ensure that they operate their vehicle with caution and good judgment, following the instruction they have received. They must be visible at all times by operating their lights, as well as a siren if it does not interfere with their response.
- Police pursuit by vehicle. In exceptional cases and as a last resort, they may obtain permission to conduct a police vehicle pursuit. They must have reasonable cause to believe that an offence has been committed and have no other means of identifying or arresting the suspect. Other factors to be considered include the nature and severity of the offence, weather conditions, presence of pedestrians, traffic density, existence of high risk areas, presence of passengers in the vehicle, characteristics of the police vehicle and the suspect's vehicle. Throughout the pursuit, the officer must assess the risk to determine if the pursuit should be terminated for life safety or other reasons.
What are the duties of a police officer when they engage in emergency driving?
Even if a police officer or any other peace officer engage in emergency driving, he or she must still drive safely, conduct himself or herself in accordance with the laws and regulations and be courteous in his or her conduct. Thus, even if exempted from respecting certain rules of conduct in particular circumstances, the driver of an emergency vehicle subject to the Code of Ethics of Québec Police Officers must ensure that he or she does not endanger citizens.
He is therefore failing in his duty under section 11 of the Code of Ethics of Québec Police Officers when he does not drive his vehicle with caution and discernment.
What should I do if I see a police officer driving recklessly in an emergency vehicle?
- Film or record the incident. If possible, you can film or record the interaction or have a witness do so to allow you to obtain evidence of the incident. However, make sure you do not interfere with the officer's work or violate the Highway Safety Code. For example, you cannot hold your cell phone in your hand if you are driving a motor vehicle yourself.
- Try to identify the number of the vehicle, the badge or the identity of the police officer at fault. Depending on the situation, this may be difficult. This does not mean that the officer cannot be identified later.
- Take notes. Take notes as soon as possible after the incident about what happened with as many factual details as possible (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?).
- Wait and then review your notes. Take the time to let the dust settle and review your notes to assess whether the officer exercised care and judgment in driving, considering the possibility that he or she was acting in an emergency situation. If in doubt, you can report the incident to a third party for a second opinion.
- Consider filing a police ethics complaint. Find out if a police ethics complaint is appropriate for you and if so, file one.