Once again the road rules raise their head, this time in the context of ‘rescue’ the State Rescue Board and the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW).    It is an offence to operate an ‘unaccredited’ rescue unit.  Section 53(2) says:

A rescue unit is required to be accredited even though:

(a) it is a unit of the NSW Police Force, Fire and Rescue NSW, the Ambulance Service of NSW, the State Emergency Service or any other government agency, or

(b) it is a unit of a  volunteer  agency, or

(c) it carries out, in addition to operations for the rescue of persons, other operations such as the rescue of animals or the recovery of property.

An accredited rescue agency is required to “implement (in accordance with law) the decisions of the State Rescue Board”.  Decisions of the State Rescue Board are communicated in part through their policy documents, including the State Rescue Policy (3rd ed, 16 May 2012) (available at http://www.emergency.nsw.gov.au/media/1523.pdf).

That policy document says:

2.05     Emergency Service Vehicles. Emergency Service agencies or organisations that are authorised to fit lights and audible warning devices to their vehicles and operate them in accordance   with   the   Road   Transport   (Vehicle Registration) Regulations 1998, for the conduct of their core functions are exempt compliance with the following requirements.

2.06     Volunteer Rescue Vehicles. State Rescue Board accredited Volunteer Rescue Units may fit flashing lights to their rescue vehicles and operate them in accordance with the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulations 1998 and NSW Vehicle Standards Information Bulletins.

2.07     Volunteer  Rescue  Vehicles  –  Exemptions  for  drivers  of  emergency vehicles. The Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management)(Road Rules) Regulation 1999 do not provide exemptions from the provisions of the Australian Road rules for volunteer rescue vehicles. Specifically, drivers of volunteer rescue vehicles are to comply with all road signs, traffic lights and posted speed limits, even when proceeding to a rescue incident or emergency situation.

That, according to my most recent correspondent, is confusing in light of earlier posts here about the Australian Road Rules, that are part of the law of NSW because of the Road Rules 2008 (NSW); what does it all mean?

First it means the SRB is out of date;

  • The Road   Transport   (Vehicle Registration) Regulations 1998 have been replaced by the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007; and
  • The Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management)(Road Rules) Regulation 1999 have been replaced by the Road Rules 2008.

Given this edition of the policy was issued in 2012 it’s probably not unreasonable to think those references could have been corrected.  Even so the intent of the policy is reasonably clear.

The emergency services, in particular the police, fire brigades and ambulance service, all carry red/blue lights and sirens as part of their ‘core functions’ so clause 2.05 would apply to them.  If they are operating a rescue unit it too can carry red/blue lights and enjoy the exemption (for what it’s worth) contained in the Road Rules 2008 (NSW) s 306.

The VRA

The Volunteer Rescue Association has no statute that governs them; if they run an accredited rescue unit and if the SRB allows them to install ‘flashing lights’ they get no exemption.  This is not because of the SRB policy statement, but because of the law and, in these paragraphs, the policy statement is merely summarising what the law is.  To go back to the definition of an emergency vehicle it is a vehicle driven by an emergency worker as part of their duties and an emergency worker is a member of the Ambulance Service, a fire brigade, rural fire brigade or the State Emergency Service or a person approved by the Authority.  If we assume that VRA drivers are not approved by the Authority then they are not emergency workers, their vehicle is not an emergency vehicle and r 306 won’t apply so SRB policy at [2.07] would be correct.  If they do have approval from the RTA then they are emergency workers and [2.07] would be incorrect.

The SES

If we go back to [2.05] it refers to emergency service vehicles being equipped with lights and sirens as part of their core functions.  If we take a shortcut and go to NSW Vehicle standards Information (http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/registration/downloads/vsi/vsi_08_flashing_lights_and_sirens_rev_4_1__nov_2010.pdf; rather than the standards themselves) it says SES vehicles may be fitted with red/blue lights, but they are not listed as agencies entitled to put a siren on the vehicle.   Sirens may be fitted to ambulances, police vehicles, fire appliances and:

  • Rescue vehicles accredited by the State Rescue Board and approved by the RTA and
  • Accredited ‘volunteer’ rescue vehicles approved by the State Rescue Board, endorsed by the NSW Police Service and approved by the RTA.

If we go back to s 53(2) above the SES is referred to in subparagraph (1) whereas subparagraph (2) refers to ‘a volunteer agency’.    If it was intended to include the SES as a volunteer agency, it would not be listed in subparagraph (a).  The SES is an ‘emergency service’, it is established by the State Emergency Services Act 1989 (NSW) and one of its functions (s 8(e)) is “to carry out, by accredited SES units, rescue operations allocated by the State Rescue Board”.  Neither NSW Fire and Rescue (see Fire Brigades Act 1989 (NSW)) nor the ambulance service of NSW (see Health Services Act 1997 (NSW) Chapter 5A) have such a specific function.

The SES is an emergency service agency, it is entitled to fit red/blue lights to their vehicles and sirens where the unit is an accredited rescue unit.   An SES member is an emergency worker and has an exemption under r 306 when driving as part of his/her SES duties which as s 8 shows, includes being part of an accredited rescue unit.  Paragraph [2.05] applies to the SES and SES operated rescue units.

But that’s just silly

The only people that the reference to volunteer rescue vehicles can refer to is organisations that do not have that statutory authority, such as the Volunteer Rescue Association.  It is however silly to put lights and sirens on a vehicle and not grant the exemption under r 306 of the Road Rules.  Under r 79 ‘A driver must give way to a police or emergency vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue or red light (whether or not it is also displaying other lights) or sounding an alarm.’  What happens if a VRA vehicle is approaching an intersection controlled by traffic lights and is facing a ‘red light’ with lights and siren on but allegedly no exemption?  A car coming on the other arm of the intersection, with a green light, will give way (it would be irrelevant that if it’s not an emergency vehicle they don’t have to give way; most driver’s won’t know the rules and won’t know whether or not the driver’s been approved, they’ll see a vehicle marked ‘rescue’ with red/blue lights and a siren) but the driver of the VRA vehicle will not proceed as he or she knows they have no exemption.  One could face the rather undignified picture of no one proceeding through the intersection.

In summary

The SRB policy statement is almost correct.

  1. Where an accredited rescue unit is operated by NSW Police, NSW Ambulance or Fire and Rescue NSW the rescue vehicle can be equipped with red/blue lights and siren.
  2. Where an accredited rescue unit is operated by NSW SES the rescue vehicle can be equipped with red/blue lights and, with the approval of the Roads and Maritime Authority, a siren; and
  3. Where an accredited rescue unit is operated by a volunteer agency (which does not include the SES) it can be equipped with red/blue lights and, when endorsed by NSW Police and the Roads and Maritime Authority, a siren.

The argument I’d make

Arguably unless there is also express approval for the purposes of s 306 that the person is an emergency worker then r306 does not apply and SRB paragraph [2.07] is correct but let us remember that this will only be an issue if the driver gets a traffic infringement notice, when responding to a police call out to a rescue, travelling with red/blue lights and sirens, in circumstances where it’s reasonable that the exemption should apply and when they are taking reasonable care.  It’s hard to imagine a police officer would issue a ticket in those circumstances; if it was issued by an automatic red light or speed camera I would expect the police to withdraw the notice.   If they did not I would take the matter to court and argue that the approval by the SRB, the Police and the RTA all of which were required before the lights and sirens were fitted by necessary implication also meant that the driver was “a person (or a person belonging to a class of persons) approved by the Authority” for the purposes of r 306; in short when the authority approved the fitting of lights and sirens it, by implication, approved that the driver of the vehicle was an emergency worker or the putting of lights and sirens on is a pointless and more importantly confusing exercise.

I don’t think it’s the driver who would come of the situation looking silly if all the other criteria for rule 306 had been met.

Michael Eburn

15 January 2013