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A Guide To The Police Siren

A Guide To The Police Siren

A Guide To The Police Siren
Police Siren

Something we are all accustomed to, police sirens play a vital role in the world of policing. Designed to alert both pedestrians and drivers, a police siren usually signals an emergency. 

Vital for clearing the road, if you hear a police siren, it is extremely important to stop what you are doing and pay close attention to your surroundings. 

A police car will sound its sirens for many reasons including sudden emergency responses or alerting an upcoming driver that they are being pulled over.

Whatever the reason, it is crucial that you are well educated on police sirens and their meanings to protect not only yourself, but other road users as well.

Today, we dive into the history of police sirens and how you should safely respond to one as a road user. 

The Police siren history

To ensure the safety of first responders and the public, sirens were designed to generate loud noises to alert all road users to take necessary safety precautions.

But it wasn’t always as simple as this.

Did you know?

Well before advances in technology, emergency vehicles relied on the use of manual bells and whistles to alert the public. 

Yes – bells! 

To take this a step further, a horn was fitted to the device to enhance the noise for a much further reach. 

It wasn’t until 1963 that emergency vehicles advanced to the use of sirens, and, by law, all police vehicles were required to use blue rotating lights.

Back in the day, the regulations posed on the police force were much like today. Constrained by a strict law of the positioning of the blue light, moderations to police vehicles were made to meet the regulation height of the blue lights. 

Luckily, our police officers are no longer required to manually ring a bell to warn other road users. Emergency vehicles have come a long way in recent years and have now adapted high-tech devices including speakers, amplifiers, tone variations, and an advanced control system that allows first responders to take immediate action in case of an emergency. 

What are the types of police sirens?

So, why are there different types of police siren tones and what exactly do they mean?

The different types of police sirens indicate different types of scenarios and it’s important that, as a road user, you are well accustomed to their meanings to allow you to act accordingly.

In the UK, there are three main types of police sirens. Let’s look at what each of them mean.

Short tones

Short tones are designed to rapidly alternate between high and low sounds. Often used alongside flashing emergency lights, this type of tone is used to quickly grab the attention of both road users ahead and pedestrians. 

If you find yourself in this situation, it is advised that you pull over as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Long tones

Much like the short tone which alternates between high tones, the long sound will do so at a slower pace. 

This type of siren is commonly used in rural and emptier spaces and is cleverly designed to draw out the sound for a better reach. Again, long toned sirens will be used in conjunction with flashing emergency lights. 

Contrasting tone

A contrasting siren tone sounds a little different from the short and long tones. Instead of the usual “woo” sounds, a contrasting tone sounds more like “ee-oo-ee-oo”. 

Designed to sound less urgent than the others, if you hear this sound, you are still required to quickly assess your surroundings and safely pull over when possible. 

How loud is the police siren?

We’ve all been startled by the sudden blast of a police siren. But just how loud is it, to be exact?

An emergency service siren is typically around 110 decibels (dB); however, this range certainly varies and levels have been measured at up to a whopping 120dB. 

Typically, the maximum prolonged dB for the human ear is 70dB before it starts to cause real damage. Therefore, as you can expect, the life of a police officer comes with huge demands both physically and mentally.

How do police change the siren?

In the UK, a police officer can change the sirens via a control box located within the vehicle. 

Additionally, police officers are also able to control their sirens via the horn. Unlike a regular car, a police car has been cleverly designed with an internal system allowing the police officers to use their horn for controlling their sirens. 

This feature allows officers to quickly respond to emergency situations without compromising their attention to the roads. 

What does it mean when police use their siren?

Cleverly designed to draw attention from all road users and pedestrians, a police siren indicates an upcoming emergency. A response vehicle will utilise their siren and blue lights when attempting to reach an emergency scene throughout oncoming traffic. 

What should you do when the Police are using their siren?

You’re cruising down the roads, tending to your daily business when suddenly an array of flashing blue lights and the piercing sound of a police siren quickly approaches you.

So, what do you do?

As mentioned, a police siren indicates an upcoming emergency, and it is important that you act quickly and safely to allow the police vehicle space to move.

Drawing immediate attention to your surroundings by use of your car’s mirrors, you should aim to come to a complete stop by way of pulling into the left when it is safe to do so. 

The same process applies to road users who are being signalled to stop by an officer, commonly referred to as being “pulled over”. 

It is crucial that you remain calm and act safely – it isn’t always possible to stop your vehicle right away so using your own judgement is absolutely essential. 

Are police allowed to use sirens at night?

Police officers are allowed to use their sirens during the night; however, officers will use their judgement depending on various factors such as how busy the roads are.

Let’s face it – nobody likes to be awoken from their slumber with sudden loud noises. However, there are circumstances where police officers are required to use their sirens depending on the severity of the emergency.

Officers are advised to use their sirens with caution so as not to disturb the public during the night, so if you find yourself awoken by the sound of sirens, bear in mind that they are only following the rules and most likely attending a serious situation. 

Tom Brook

Tom Brook

I am a former Police Detective with years of knowledge and experience in investigating serious crimes across Scotland, working with communities and keeping the public safe. I aim to give back to the Policing community with this site!
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