I have received versions of this question from two correspondents, which makes me wonder if they are from the same brigade or referring to the same incident?  The question below is a ‘mash up’ of the two messages I received:

Recently a NSW Rural Fire Service tanker was responding to a fire call.  The tanker collided with a another vehicle and was at fault. The driver didn’t leave the truck a didn’t have/or produce their licence.  What are the legal aspects of this? Does the driver of an emergency vehicle have to have their licence with them when attending a call?  If they are involved in an incident are they required to exchange particulars?

The obligations to hold a licence and the various classes of licences are set out in the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) and the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2008 (NSW).   Section 53 of the the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) s 175 provides that an ‘authorised officer’ may require the driver of a motor vehicle to produce his or her driver licence.   Failure to comply with that demand is an offence punishable by a maximum fine of $2200.

Section 146 makes it an offence if a driver who is involved in a collision fails to ‘stop and give any assistance that may be necessary and that it is in the person’s power to give’.    The maximum penalty for a first offence is a fine of $3300 or 18 months imprisonment, or both.  For a second or subsequent offence the maximum penalty increases to a fine of $5500 and/or 2 years imprisonment.

Rule 287 of the Road Rules 2014 (NSW) says that a driver involved in an accident must give details of:

(a)       their name and address;

(b)       the name and address of the owner of the vehicle;

(c)        the vehicle’s registration number; and

(d)       any other information necessary to identify the vehicle (eg unit and callsign).

to:

(a)       any other driver involved in the crash;

(b)       any person who is injured; and

(c)        the owner of any property damaged in the crash (unless the owner is also the driver).

The driver must, if possible, exchange those details at the scene of the accident but if that is not possible (eg because the injured person is being treated by paramedics and transported to hospital) as soon as possible and generally speaking, within 24 hours.  If you cannot provide those details at the scene, the owner of the vehicle may provide them to other parties.

The driver must also provide those details to the police if:

(a)       anyone is killed or injured in the crash, or

(b)       the driver cannot give their details to any of the people listed above;

(c)        any other driver involved in the crash does not share their details;

(d)       a vehicle involved in the crash is towed or carried away, or

(e)       a police officer asks.

When giving their details to police, a driver is also be required to give to police an explanation of the circumstances of the accident.

In this blog we have often discussed rule 306 of the Road Rules 2014 (NSW) and its equivalent in the other jurisdictions.  That rule says:

A provision of these Rules 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 rule should not apply, and

(b) if the vehicle is a motor vehicle that is moving-the vehicle is displaying a blue or red flashing light or sounding an alarm.

The first thing to note is that the exemption only applies to a ‘provision of these Rules …’ not all law or all traffic law.  The obligations to hold a licence, to produce it to an authorised officer and to stop and render assistance at an accident are all set out in Acts and Regulations other than the Road Rules 2014.  It follows that there is no exemption from those rules discussed above.

Rule 287 is a ‘provision of these Rules’ so could be covered by the exemption in rule 306 but one would have to ask would it ever be reasonable that the rule should not apply?  If a fire appliance or other emergency vehicle is involved in an accident why would it be reasonable not to require the driver to exchange details with other drivers and, in appropriate circumstances, with police?  Even if it was not practicable to exchange those details at the time of the accident, eg if a fire appliance is being driven to a house fire, the fire crew can see the address and see smoke and flames coming from the building and they fear persons are trapped inside. In making their way to the fire they side swipe a parked car.  It may not be ‘practicable’ to stop and exchange details at that point but the rule can still apply, and remember that the rules says if it is not practicable to exchange details they should be provided within 24 hours.

If a person has been injured then the driver has an obligation to stop and render assistance.  They have already taken themselves ‘off line’ so whatever they were going to, they are not going now so how could it be reasonable to exempt the driver from the obligation to provide their details to other drivers and police?

Remember too that if a person is injured, or their property is damaged due to the negligence of another driver they are entitled to seek recompense for their losses. It does not matter that the other driver was driving an emergency vehicle (save that may be relevant to the conduct of whether the driving was ‘reasonable in all the circumstances).  Driving to an emergency does not warrant putting others at risk.  All emergency service vehicles are insured so the obligation to pay does not fall on the driver, it falls on the insurer.  The injured party however has to have information about the driver and the vehicle in order to make his or her claim and it would be quite wrong to fail to give them that information to allow them, or their insurer, to make the relevant claims (see Volunteers and driver’s liability (NSW) (April 5, 2015)).  And that of course goes both ways, so a member of the emergency services injured in the accident needs to know the other driver’s details as does the service that may want to seek compensation for the damage to its appliance.

Conclusion

Does the driver of an emergency vehicle have to have their licence with them when attending a call? 

The law doesn’t actually say that, what it says that the driver has to produce their licence when asked to do so by an authorised officer (which includes a police officer) but it follows that one can only comply with that obligation if they have the licence with them, so the answer is “yes”.

If they are involved in an incident are they required to exchange particulars?

The obligation to exchange details is set out in the Road Rules 2014 (NSW) so there could be an exemption if that was reasonable (r 306) but it’s hard to imagine how that could be reasonable particularly when the rule says that those details must be given at the time of the accident or within 24 hours; so even if the emergency did mean they couldn’t be given immediately they could be given within 24 hours.  Further if someone is injured the emergency services have to stop anyway, so whatever it was they were going to is no longer relevant.

It follows that although it is theoretically possible that in the right circumstances there could be an exemption under r 306, I can’t imagine what those circumstances would be.  In my view, the driver of an emergency vehicle involved in an accident is required to exchange details with other drivers and with police.