This question comes from Western Australia but I suspect the issue is common across Australia.
I believe an unsatisfactory situation exists which needs rectification, perhaps not only in W.A. but throughout Australia, in regards to fire hydrant markings.
It would seem from anecdote that a fairly common offence in the Perth metropolitan area is obstruction of fire hydrant points. Many of these points are embedded in public road surfaces and are covered with a plug approximately 20cm square. They are all but invisible to motorists.
The practice on the part of the authorities is to mark the road adjacent to the hydrants with a white painted “H” symbol and further mark the adjacent kerb with a splodge of white paint. The resultant effect, without familiar knowledge in my view, is akin to markings on a roadway preparatory to road repair.
The issue, in this area of W.A. at least, is that the authority, Department of Fire and Emergency Services, and subcontracted Municipal Councils do not appear to have a published code for identification of hydrants. Perhaps because of this, the driving code handbooks fail to indicate what constitutes a fire hydrant marking. It would be fair of course to say that local knowledge has been built such that many people do recognize the significance of the marking. However, rightly, many more do not.
In my case, as a traveller who spends 6 months per year overseas and who primarily resides in Sydney, the “H” designation meant nothing – as I’m sure it would to most visitors.
My question of you Michael is, assuming my reading of the situation is right, can you comment on any Australia wide initiative to bring a uniformity to signage to either a national or international standard? Can you also comment on the legal defensibility of municipal councils charging motorists for parking over a marking which is not defined in the road code or in fire services authority documentation?
Interestingly I was recently in WA and saw the ‘H’ marking on the road and identified the white paint on the hydrant cover. As I was a pedestrian at the time I was able to deduce what the “H” meant but I did say that if I was driving not only would I have not known what it meant it was unlikely that a driver would see it, and certainly not at night.
The offence of parking in front of a hydrant is set out in the Road Traffic Code 2000 (WA). Regulation 163(1) says:
‘A driver shall not stop a vehicle so that any portion of the vehicle is within 1 m of a fire hydrant or fire plug, or of any sign or mark indicating the existence of a fire hydrant or fire plug …’
The penalty, if the matter is dealt with by way of a parking ticket, is one penalty unit or $50 (Reg 163(2) see also Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994 (WA) s 11 and Road Traffic (Administration) Act 2008 (WA) s 7). If the matter was to go to court the penalty could be increased to a maximum of 24 penalty units or $1200 (Road Traffic Code 2000 (WA) reg 9(2)).
Fire Hydrant is defined in the Code (reg 3(1)) as ‘an upright pipe with a spout, nozzle or other outlet for drawing water from a main or service pipe in case of fire or other emergency’. It follows that a sunken water source is not a ‘fire hydrant’ for the purposes of the Road Traffic Code. What is a ‘fire plug’ is not defined but I’ll adopt the definition from CFA Senior Station Officer David Ferguson (see Jeremy Lee, ‘Have you got a fire plug on your property?’ ABC South West Victoria (online) 24 October 2013)) who says:
… the plugs are generally located on people’s nature strips, with little blue cat’s eyes on the road and marker poles to help point fire fighters to where the plugs are.
Let us accept therefore that the ‘fire hydrant points’ described by my correspondent, and seen by me, are ‘fire plugs’.
My correspondent says that there appears to be no ‘published code for identification of hydrants’; but in fact there is and it too is set out in the Road Traffic Code 2000 (WA) reg 3(1) and Schedule 4, and repeated across Australia as part of the National Road Rules. The approved indicators are shown below and also on the ABC South West Victoria story, above.
Fire Hydrant and Fire Plug Indicators
(This image is taken from Australian Road Rules (SA) r 194 as the image is of a higher quality than the equivalent in the WA Code)
There does not appear to be any reference to the ‘H’ mark on the road in any other WA legislation (such as the Local Government Act 1995 (WA) or its Regulations).
Given that we are all supposed to know the law (hence no knowledge of the law is no defence) one might reasonably infer that if there is no ‘fire plug indicator’ then there is no fire plug! The offence in reg 163 is made out if one parks within one metre of ‘any sign or mark indicating the existence of a … fire plug’. I would certainly argue that the sign or mark has to be one prescribed by the Code not one invented by council.
The offence is also made out if one parks within one metre of the plug. Whether the car is within a metre of the plug depends upon where the plug is in the ground. If there’s a metre between the car and the plug, no offence is committed.
If the plug is within a metre then at least an interstate visitor should defend a ticket. It is a defence to point to ‘an honest and reasonable belief in facts which if true would make the act complained of innocent’. That is legalese for if you honestly and reasonably believe that certain facts are true, and if they were true what you did would not be illegal, that that is a defence. As argued above I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that if there is no fire plug indicator there is no fire plug and if that were true, parking there would not be an offence. That defence will only work for visitors, locals who actually do know that there is a fire plug there would not have the necessary belief.
That’s not to say a Magistrate wouldn’t be sympathetic to the argument given there is, in fact, a standard that is meant to be applied so even for locals it may be worth a try. On the other hand, a magistrate may well find that the “H” is a ‘mark indicating the existence of a fire hydrant’ and that is sufficient. There do not appear to be any reported WA cases where the issue has been tested.
The problem is that the cost of defending a $50 parking ticket will well exceed the cost of paying it so most sensible people might write to the police to seek to have the ticket withdrawn but are reluctant to take the matter to court if that doesn’t work.