A correspondent sent me a link to an article in the Geelong Advertiser and reproduced in the Herald Sun online: ‘Parking fine anger: Snapped for two-minute’ (Alex Sinnott, March 15, 2017) http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/parking-fine-anger-snapped-for-twominute-stop/news-story/44da7158d3c50b66f8577b8c93a70c34?utm_content=SocialFlow&utm_campaign=EditorialSF&utm_source=HaraldSun&utm_medium=Facebook. The article is a premium plus article so you may not be able to read it. The gist of the story is that a fellow was driving when he saw a person ‘struggling to dispense of a window pane into a nearby rubbish skip’. He stopped to help `and was snapped by council inspectors in the process. [He] later received a fine of $90 by mail.’ A spokesperson for the council is quoted as saying ‘The use of mounted cameras in vehicles has been in use for approximately five years and assist greatly in confined and/or unsafe situations’.
My correspondent says ‘Not EM related as such but where does a good Samaritan stand legally if helping at an incident for example?’
Under the Australian Road Rules, which are incorporated into Victorian law by the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) the various parking restrictions do not apply to an ‘emergency vehicle’ (r 307) but that won’t help a private citizen who stops their private car and gets out to help. For them, the relevant road rule is r 165 which says, amongst other things, that it is a defence if a:
… driver stops at a particular place, or in a particular way, to deal with a medical or other emergency, or to assist a disabled vehicle, and the driver stops for no longer than is necessary in the circumstances.
It is also a defence if:
… the driver stops at a particular place, or in a particular way, because the condition of the driver, a passenger, or the driver’s vehicle makes it necessary for the driver to stop in the interests of safety, and the driver stops for no longer than is necessary in the circumstances’.
A good Samaritan who stops to assist at an emergency therefore has a defence to an allegation of parking contrary to the relevant signs and parking restrictions. But note that it is a defence, it doesn’t mean that a ticket won’t be issued. One would expect too much to believe that the parking inspectors will, or can, identify in each case what the driver of an illegal parked car is doing and when that driver is assisting at an emergency. No doubt in some cases it will be obvious, but in some it will not. It will certainly be the case that they won’t identify what the driver was doing if the car is identified by ‘mounted cameras in vehicles’. That is akin to red light and speed cameras, they will be triggered when the breach is observed, the camera can’t tell what the driver is doing or, in the case of red light and speed cameras, whether it’s an ambulance or other emergency vehicle that is responding to an emergency.
If a ticket is issued it does not mean the driver is guilty of the offence. Whether you get a parking ticket or arrested for murder, it is just an allegation. In either case the police must prove their case beyond reasonable doubt, should the defendant chose to deny the allegation.
The first thing a good Samaritan who has received a parking infringement notice should do is follow the instructions on the back of the ticket and write a letter to the police or enforcement agency explaining the situation and providing whatever details and evidence they can to identify the emergency and that they were assisting. Information such as the identity of the police who were in attendance and a copy of any statement given to police that explains what they saw and their involvement in the event would help. If other people involved in the event can provide a supporting statement that would also help.
If the police or council don’t withdraw the penalty the driver can elect to take the matter to court. As the defendant, they have an evidentiary burden which means they have to give some evidence that they were stopped to assist at an emergency, but that could be nothing more than their own statement. Once the matter is raised, the police or council must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that they were not assisting at the emergency or that they stopped for longer than was necessary in the circumstances.
That is no doubt inconvenient but as noted, you can’t expect that in every circumstance the parking enforcement officers will correctly identify what is going on. They will see a car parked contrary to the relevant signs and rules. If there is also a massive accident and lots of people helping they might infer that is what is going on but there are so many possibilities that it may well happen that even though the driver is assisting at an emergency, the parking officers, or the mounted camera, won’t identify that. It is for this reason that we have the rule of law, and courts. Police and council inspectors make allegations, ultimately it is courts, that have the chance to review all the evidence that everyone wants to bring, that determine guilt or innocence.