It turns out that tax collection is the fourth emergency service. HMRC has decided that sometimes tax collection is such an urgent business that they cannot be expected to stick to the speed limits. The taxman is on a new list of services which could be allowed to speed.
But why? And will they get what they want?
The new rulesThe list is one that has been included in a Department for Transport consultation exercise into whether they can broaden the list of organisations that are allowed to exceed the legal speed limit. The Department said: "The changes would have two major effects. Firstly it will allow certain other vehicle purposes to be included in speed limit exemption regulations. Secondly it will prescribe a high speed training course that drivers must undertake (or be in the process of taking) before they are permitted to exceed speed limits."
Part of the consultation is a proposed list of organisations who could be permitted to break the rules. HMRC is top of the list, which also includes Ministry of Defence bomb disposal experts, the Security Services, Blood Transfusion serves, Mountain Rescue, Coastguard and RNLI.
Many of these seem obvious. After-all it doesn't make sense for your lifeboat crew to be stuck in traffic while you're clinging to a rock. However, it's harder to see why the taxman needs to be in such a hurry.
Why?However, it makes a bit more sense when you consider some of the things the taxman has to get up to. It's not all poring through tax returns, their personnel also chase smugglers and criminal gangs, using covert surveillance. It's these investigators who might need to be in a bit of a rush if the criminals they are tailing step on the gas.
The DoT explains: "Customs surveillance operations mirror the activities of the police service and they have extensive arrest and investigatory powers."
Before 2003 the experts thought there was small loophole in current legislation which says that anyone doing roughly the same thing as the police should have an exemption, but in the last nine years the legal advice has changed, so police no longer offer driver speed training to these investigators. The idea is to make their position clearer so they can be property permitted and trained.
And while this may seem like a small group to devise a special law for, around the country, at any one time, there are usually around 500 HMRC investigators involved in covert surveillance, so that's a huge grey area at the moment.
So what do you think. Should the taxman be allowed to speed? The consultation is open until 27 February 2013, so you still have time to make your opinion heard.