With this question we return to the issue of putting warning lights on a private vehicle. Before I turn to the question or to the letter of the law, I can safely predict that the answer is ‘no you can’t put warning flashing lights on your private car’. Warning lights are not fitted by the ambulance services, police and fire brigades just because they think they are a good idea. They are fitted in accordance with authority granted by law because they have legal meaning and implications for all drivers. It follows that such lights can only be fitted in accordance with the law and it will never be the case that individuals can elect to fit them and then give themselves legal authority they don’t have.
So now to the question, this time from WA. My correspondent is
… in a team leadership capacity at my local SES unit in Western Australia. Occasionally I am required to attend reconnaissance assessments of houses before determining whether or not a team needs to be called out. This requires the use of personal vehicles to be driven from a home location to the location of an incident. Quite often the position of the vehicle may be in a dangerous location and it is common for people in this situation to display RED flashing warning lights while parked, to warn other drivers of the incident and vehicle parked at the location. My question is regarding the legality of these red flashing lights displayed in personal vehicles, with regard to Western Australian vehicle and traffic legislation. The following information may be relevant:
(1) The SES official response vehicles do not have sirens and use RED ONLY beacons, only to be powered should the vehicle be an obstruction at a roadway and going under 20 kilometers per hour.
(2) There is a provision for personal vehicles to be used under the Department of Fire and Emergency Services insurance policy. SES member personal vehicles are covered for property damage travelling to and from the unit operationally or otherwise and for member’s private vehicles used for and at an incident (with prior approval from the appropriate officer)
What is the legality of a private member’s SES vehicle to display red flashing lights operationally, and should it be illegal, what are the relevant penalties?
The relevant rules are contained in the Road Traffic (Vehicles) Regulations 2014 (WA). Rule 327(2) says, amongst other things, ‘a vehicle must not display — (a) a light that flashes…’ unless the vehicle is an exempt vehicle and the CEO has approved the use of the particular flashing light (r 327(3)).
(The CEO ‘the chief executive officer of the department of the Public Service principally assisting in the administration of this Act’ (Road Traffic (Administration) Act 2008 (WA) s 4). The relevant department is the Department of Transport (‘Acts with Administering Portfolios and Public Sector Agencies, Last updated: 21 August 2015’) so the approval has to come from the CEO of the Department of Transport).
An exempt vehicle is, relevantly, an ‘an emergency vehicle’ or a vehicle ‘approved by the CEO and used in conformity with any conditions that may be imposed by the CEO’ (r 327(4). An ‘emergency vehicle’ is defined in r 226 as either:
(a) a police vehicle ordinarily used by police officers in the course of carrying out their duties;
(b) a vehicle operated by —
(i) a fire brigade under the Fire Brigades Act 1942; or
(ii) a bush fire brigade under the Bush Fires Act 1954; or
(iii) the department of the Public Service principally assisting in the administration of the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1998, and ordinarily used by members of the brigade or members of staff of that department in the course of carrying out their duties;
(c) an ambulance;
(d) an emergency vehicle within the meaning of a corresponding law [That means an emergency vehicle from another state or territory];
(e) a vehicle in respect of which a declaration under regulation 227(a) is in force;
The private vehicle of an SES member does not fit any of these clauses unless a declaration has been made under rule 227. Rule 227 says ‘The CEO may, for the purposes of this Part, declare a vehicle, or each vehicle in a class of vehicles, to be — (a) an emergency vehicle…’
The maximum penalty for driving or using a vehicle that does not comply with the standards set out in the Road Traffic (Vehicles) Regulation 2014 is a fine of 16 penalty units or a modified penalty of 2 penalty units (r 232).
A modified penalty is ‘the amount of money prescribed in a written law and specified in an infringement notice as the amount that the offender is to pay if he or she wants the matter dealt with out of court’ (Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994 (WA) s 11).
A penalty unit is $50 (Road Traffic (Administration) Act 2008 (WA) s 7) so the maximum penalty is a fine of $800 or, if the matter is dealt with by way of infringement notice, $100.
What does all that mean?
- An emergency vehicle may be fitted with flashing warning lights as approved by the CEO.
- The private vehicle of an SES member is not an emergency vehicle unless the CEO has specifically declared that it is, or that all vehicles being operated by members of the SES in particular circumstances are emergency vehicles (r 227).
- In the absence of that declaration the display of a red flashing light would be unlawful.
- If the police issue an infringement notice (an on the spot ticket) the penalty is a fine of $100 but if it goes to court the maximum fine is $800.