An RFS volunteer says:
Late last year our truck was responding to a car accident on the Pacific Highway in NSW. The accident was on the other side of the road. Whilst turning in the emergency vehicle only crossover on the highway a car ran up the back of us. Our driver was charged with making a u-turn and not giving way to another vehicle. Our truck was in the right hand lane for approx 400m and the car ran up the back of us. We can’t find any information on the use of these turn around points on the highway. Not using these means we travel sometimes an extra 5 km each way to reach a car accident.
It’s hard to comment on these matters if they are the subject of legal proceedings and I do not know whether the driver has paid the infringement notice or is defending the matter in court. I only have this version of the facts to go on and I will be making assumptions. What follows cannot be taken as specific legal advice on this particular matter, but general observations on the relevant road rules. For specific advice the driver should approach the RFS or a solicitor of his or her choice.
First I assume that I am not commenting on the fatal accident that occurred in 2013 (see ‘Tragic outcome from RFS response‘ (April 4, 2013)). That event has quite different facts (at least as reported at the time) and and given the outcome of that event, both in terms of the serious injuries and death of those involved and the prosecution of the driver with serious offences, it would not be appropriate for me to comment or for anyone to base their understanding of the legal position on a blog written without all the relevant information.
Second I assume that this event occurred in an area where there is roadway that passes between both the north and south carriage way and there are signs that say words to the effect of ‘No U Turn, police, NRMA and emergency vehicles excepted’. My correspondent has not told me that, but I am familiar with the highway and have seen those signs.
The Road Rules 2014 (NSW)
The Road Rules 2014 provide for U-turns in rules 37-42. Rule 39 says that a driver ‘must not make a U-turn at a break in a dividing strip on a road if there is a no U-turn sign at the break in the dividing strip’. According to the Road Rules, Schedule 3, a ‘No U-turn’ sign looks like this:
A sign applies to the driver of a vehicle unless the ‘information on or with the device expressly indicates that it does not apply to the person’ (Road Rules 2014 (NSW) r 339(2) and Dictionary, definition of ‘Traffic Control Device’). So a sign that says ‘No U Turn’ applies to all drivers unless it expressly indicates it does not apply. It follows that a sign that says ‘No U Turn, police, NRMA and emergency vehicles excepted’ can be taken on its face. It’s an offence to make a U-turn unless the driver is driving a police, NRMA or emergency vehicle.
We know that an emergency vehicle is a vehicle driven by an emergency worker in the course of his or her duties as an emergency worker and an emergency worker includes ‘a member of a fire or rescue service operated by a NSW Government agency … providing transport in the course of an emergency’. What is an emergency is not defined but I think we can take is as axiomatic that a member of the RFS, driving an RFS appliance, in response to a call out to a motor vehicle accident is driving in the course of his or her duties as an emergency worker and so is driving an emergency vehicle, in which case the ‘No U-turn’ sign does not apply.
Even if the ‘No U-turn’ sign did apply, as the driver of an emergency vehicle the driver of an RFS appliance would have the normal exemption; that is the rule that says one cannot do a U-turn in the face of a ‘No U-turn’ sign does not apply if the driver is taking reasonable care, it is reasonable that rule does not apply and the vehicle is displaying red or blue flashing lights or sounding an alarm (Road Rules 2014 (NSW) r 306).
A driver making a U-turn must do so ‘without unreasonably obstructing the free movement of traffic’ and must ‘give way to all vehicles and pedestrians’ (Road Rules 2014 (NSW) rr 37 and 38). ‘Give way’ means, amongst other things, ‘slow down and, if necessary, stop to avoid a collision’ (Road Rules 2014 (NSW) Dictionary, definition of ‘Give way’).
So we have this situation, an RFS appliance can make a U-turn either because the prohibition specifically does not apply to them or by virtue of r 306. Other cars should give way to them and allow them to complete the U-turn but they would not be justified in simply pulling in front of oncoming vehicles without first making sure those other driver’s had indeed, given way to them.
My correspondent said ‘We can’t find any information on the use of these turn around points on the highway’ and asked for clarification of these. Limiting myself to just question:
- If the signs say they do not apply to an emergency vehicle they can be taken on their face. The driver of an emergency vehicle does not commit an offence under rule 39 if he or she makes a U-Turn in the face of a sign that says emergency vehicles are exempt.
- If the sign does not say emergency vehicles are exempt, they are by virtue of rule 306 provided they are taking reasonable care and have their beacons or siren activated.