Once again the question of road rules arises, this time in Queensland and this time a very unique set of facts. The pilot of a rescue helicopter has written stating:
I am employed as a Helicopter Pilot in the state of Queensland providing emergency aero medical services predominately to the Queensland Ambulance Service…
Part of my management charter has been to provide my staff with inclusion to the emergency fraternity, training in the roles they currently undertake and, recognition for the essential services they provide. The best fit I could find and the most interest shown by an agency to include my rescue team was with the SES. They are now placing our team on the books, providing training and giving the team some recognition under the Australian Awards System … Additionally they are often required to drive Ambulances under urgent duty conditions or lights and bells as it is known.
So with the above situation here are my questions and rationale behind the concept.
Can I personally, exercise the privileges of an emergency vehicle in my role as a Rescue Pilot? Given that we have signed onto the SES, and are tasked from home for urgent medical jobs, is it reasonable to respond lights and bells accepting all the responsibility of using due care and attention? …
Must I inform Queensland Transport of the equipment fitted to my lease car? I recently learnt that the SES in this State are not authorised for use of Red and Blue Lights. Their vehicles only use amber unless they are an approved road rescue unit in which case they use amber and red cones. Given this fact, is the SES the best agency for my staff or does it still suffice to be a part of an emergency group for the purpose of exemptions from the road rules.
As noted earlier, the Road Rules are national but the definition of emergency vehicle varies from state to state. In Queensland the rules are set out in the Transport Operations (Road Use Management–Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld). As with all the other jurisdictions the Rules say, in rule 306:
A provision of this regulation does not apply to the driver of an emergency vehicle if–
(a) in the circumstances–
(i) the driver is taking reasonable care; and
(ii) it is reasonable that the section should not apply; and
(b) if the vehicle is a motor vehicle that is moving–the vehicle is displaying a red flashing light or sounding an alarm.
‘emergency vehicle means a motor vehicle driven by a person who is–
(a) an emergency worker; and
(b) driving the vehicle in the course of his or her duties as an emergency worker.’
The critical definition is who is an emergency worker? In Queensland:
emergency worker means–
(a) an officer of the Queensland Ambulance Service or an ambulance service of another State; or
(b) an officer of the Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority or a fire and rescue service of another State; or
(c) an officer or employee of another entity with the written permission of the commissioner.
Clearly an officer of the SES is not an emergency worker; so the mere fact that you have signed up to be affiliated with the SES does not give any necessary authority. Even if it did, it would not authorise you or any member of the SES (or a member of the Ambulance or a member of Queensland Fire and Rescue) to attach warning lights and/or siren to their own car.
As I’ve noted elsewhere even if the vehicle is an emergency vehicle because it is being driven by an emergency worker, that does not mean that any exemption under rule 306 applies or that beacons or a siren can be attached to the vehicle. Deciding whether or not sirens and or red lights can be fitted depends upon the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Vehicle Standards and Safety) Regulation 2010 (Qld). As expected that regulation does not allow the fitting of red lights or a siren except to an ‘exempt’ vehicle which includes an emergency vehicle (but unlike the Victorian regulation (see Red/blue lights on CFA Slip on unit there does not appear to be the equivalent of clause 118(2) in the Queensland regulation). In any event, if you are affiliated with the SES, you are not an emergency worker, your vehicle will not be an exempt vehicle.
A vehicle driven by an officer of Queensland Ambulance or Queensland Fire and Rescue is an emergency vehicle if it is being driven ‘in the course of his or her duties as an emergency worker’ but when would it ever be part of their duties to respond in their private vehicle. I’m sure paramedics responding from home are given an ambulance rather than expected to proceed in their private car. Rural firefighters may proceed in their own car but it is at that point you have to turn to the directions from their service and ask what does the service say is their duty; it is not for the individual to say ‘I’m responding in my car so as far as I’m concerned this is part of my duty’ rather one has to look at the service policy and whether it recognises that response to the scene of the emergency in a private car is part of the officer’s duty. Without checking ‘chapter and verse’ I am of the view that the emergency services consistently and properly say that turning out to the fire shed or ambulance station is not done on urgent duty; that is you drive to the station in a normal manner, it is not part of anyone’ s duty to do otherwise. It is part of the duty to respond with lights and sirens once at the station and in the ambulance or appliance. As I’ve noted before the private vehicle of a volunteer rural firefighter may be an emergency vehicle and they could hope to get an exemption if they park near the scene to report to the OIC and commence their fire fighting duties, but they’re never going to have an exemption to drive their vehicle on ‘urgent duty’.
I note that my correspondent says ‘Additionally they are often required to drive Ambulances under urgent duty conditions or lights and bells as it is known.’ I am unsure why a helicopter crew is driving an ambulance but I do not to be an emergency worker you need to be ‘an officer of the Queensland Ambulance Service or an ambulance service of another State’. Under the Ambulance Services Act 1991 (Qld) ‘service officer means a person employed under section 13(1)’ and an honorary officer is appointed under s 14. So the ambulance service has ‘service’ and ‘honorary’ officers, but in this context my correspondent is not employed by the ambulance service nor appointed as an honorary ambulance officer, so would appear not to be ‘an officer of the Queensland Ambulance Service’ and therefore not an emergency worker and not entitled to drive the ambulance. Though, to be fair, the argument would be that if they were driving at the request and direction of a service officer then the exemption would be extended to them. That argument, that is the service officer has the right to drive, or have the ambulance driven, in accordance with the Regulation, could be tested in court but I suspect would receive sympathetic hearing.
Let me return to the questions:
Can I personally, exercise the privileges of an emergency vehicle in my role as a Rescue Pilot?
No, you are not an emergency worker for the purposes of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management–Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld).
Given that we have signed onto the SES, and are tasked from home for urgent medical jobs, is it reasonable to respond lights and bells accepting all the responsibility of using due care and attention?
No it’s not. You are not allowed to have lights and bells on your car; you are not an emergency worker and you are not proceeding in the car to a medical emergency but to a helicopter base to get the helicopter. You are akin to an emergency worker driving to their station to collect their appliance or ambulance. They would have no exemptions until they get there and get the properly marked, visible vehicle. You are going to the airport to get the helicopter; there could be no justification for driving contrary to the road rules unless your employer has been given the necessary approval by Queensland Transport and you are driving a marked, visible emergency service vehicle. The critical issue is the safety of other road users.
Must I inform Queensland Transport of the equipment fitted to my lease car?
‘Yes’. Given you are not an emergency worker for the purposes of the Queensland Regulation you would need to apply for and be given permission in accordance with sub-paragraph (c ) of the definition of emergency worker.
In short, no you can’t put lights and siren on your leased vehicle, you can’t respond with lights and sirens and you have no exemptions under the Queensland Road Rules. To put it bluntly, the helicopter pilot is there to fly the helicopter, not drive an emergency road vehicle.