This question comes from a member of Victoria’s Country Fire Authority. There were really two questions so I’m going to answer them in two posts. The first relates to, once again, driving an emergency vehicle.
In addition to the normal vehicle horns on our appliances we have CFA authorised lights and sirens. On a couple of the vehicles we have installed additional airhorns. These were installed on the basis that civilian vehicles often ignored – or did not hear – the sirens. We have had complaints of drivers riding these airhorns as a way to get through traffic. I would be interested in your comments on the issues surrounding this in Victoria. Do drivers have to clear a path for, or can they not enter the path of, an emergency vehicle? If an “emergency vehicle” is displaying lights or sirens does an airhorn count as an emergency warning device? Anything else you can add to the question would be appreciated.
Any guidance you can offer regarding code 1 response driving [i.e. lights and sirens] and approach to intersections, roundabouts, etc. would be appreciated.
Any driver has to give way to, and clear the way for, an emergency vehicle. In Victoria that is provided for in the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic). Rule 78(1) says:
A driver must not move into the path of an approaching police vehicle, emergency vehicle, enforcement vehicle or escort vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue, red or magenta light (whether or not it is also displaying other lights) or sounding an alarm.
Rule 79(1) says
A driver must give way to a police vehicle, emergency vehicle, enforcement vehicle or escort vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue, red or magenta light (whether or not it is also displaying other lights) or sounding an alarm.
The reference in the rules is to ‘an alarm’ rather than ‘a siren’. What constitutes an ‘alarm’ is not defined. Vehicles must comply with the standards set out in Schedule 2 to the Road Safety (Vehicles) Regulations 2009 (Vic). Clause 34 of those standards says:
- A motor vehicle must be fitted with at least one horn or other device that can give sufficient audible warning to other road users of the approach or position of the vehicle.
- A motor vehicle must not be fitted with a device that can make a sound like the sound of a siren, exhaust whistle, compression whistle or repeater horn.
Clause 34(2) does not apply to, amongst others, police and emergency vehicles (see 34(3)).
The Oxford English Dictionary (online) relevantly defines ‘alarm’ as ‘A warning of danger’ or ‘A warning sound or device’. So the question becomes, are the air horns ‘an alarm’?
I think they probably would be. If we go back to rr 78 and 79 drivers have to give way, and make way, to a vehicle that is displaying red/blue lights or sounding an alarm. The horn, whether it’s the standard horn or an after market air horn is certainly able to warn other drivers so it is a ‘warning sound’ warning of ‘danger’. If the vehicle is a CFA vehicle with red/blue lights and a siren, the use of the horn (air horn or otherwise) adds to the warning or ‘alarm’. Equally if the vehicle has red/blue lights flashing whether the horn is an ‘alarm’ or not doesn’t really matter as the obligation on other drivers applies if the emergency vehicle has it lights on, or sounding an alarm. The definition would only be an issue if the air horn was being used with no siren and no red/blue flashing lights but one would have to ask why anyone would do that? It might not be ‘reasonable’ given that other drivers may well not understand what is going on, but I imagine most people who saw a CFA appliance trying to push its way through traffic sounding its air horns would probably try to get out of its way, but whether that was sufficient to claim any exemption from the road rules would be debatable.
In summary, I can’t see why an air horn does not fit the definition of an ‘alarm’ but if the appliance driver has the flashing lights and siren activated the question of that definition is irrelevant. The use of the air horn in those circumstances does however add to the warning function but the exemption under r 306 and the obligations under rr 78 and 79 are triggered without it. In other words the use of an air horn adds nothing, legally, to the use of flashing lights and siren, but it may add some practical value if it does in fact draw the presence of the appliance to the attention of other drivers.
As for ‘Any guidance … regarding code 1 response driving [i.e. lights and sirens] and approach to intersections, roundabouts, etc’ see https://emergencylaw.wordpress.com/category/driving-and-road-rules/, and remember the most important rule – ‘Don’t crash’.