This question comes from a volunteer who has asked that I don’t identify the jurisdiction or service. My correspondent has:

…  been asked to participate on a working group to look at policy around Urgent Duty Driving by our volunteers.  My question to you is around the Australian Road Rules in relation to emergency vehicles responding to incidents.

From my understanding under those rules, road users must give way to an emergency vehicle with lights and/or siren when safe to do so, can’t pull in front of them etc etc.  Looking at European rules, has there ever been such rules making it an actual offence not to give way to an emergency vehicle, that also provides immunity to those drivers who say, move through a red light to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle and trigger a red-light camera?

If there hasn’t what would your view be on national legislation compelling road users to stay clear of emergency vehicles, including provisions exempting those users from infringements should they break the road rules themselves so as not to impede an emergency vehicle?

Also, should there be a push to implement such amendments, would this be an opportune time to include national legislation around speed limits at locations where emergency service workers are undertaking activities on or near a roadway?

The Australian Road Rules refers to the model rules prepared by the National Transport Commission.   The Commission can’t make law, it merely drafts the rules, but it is up to the States and Territories to incorporate those rules into their law with any relevant additions or variations to deal with local conditions.  They have been adopted through the following Acts, rules or regulations:

It’s not clear that Western Australia has adopted the national rules.  The West Australian road rules are set out in the Road Traffic Code 2000 (WA).  That code doesn’t make specific reference to the National Road Rules but deals with the same subject matter.

Each state can make variations to the rules so section numbering isn’t always consistent.  For the sake of this post I will refer to the Road Rules published by the National Transport Commission (February 2012 version updated to include amendments to November 2015).   You will need to refer to the legislation in any particular jurisdiction to see if there are any variations.

The answer to my correspondent’s first question – ‘has there ever been such rules making it an actual offence not to give way to an emergency vehicle, that also provides immunity to those drivers who say, move through a red light to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle and trigger a red-light camera?’ – is ‘yes’.

Under the Australian Road Rules it is an offence to ‘move into the path of an approaching police or emergency vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue or red light (whether or not it is also displaying other lights) or sounding an alarm’ (rule 78(1)).  It is also an offence to fail to ‘move out of the path of the vehicle as soon as the driver can do so safely’ (rule 78(2)) and to fail to ‘give way to a police or emergency vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue or red light (whether or not it is also displaying other lights) or sounding an alarm’ (rule 79(1)).

Rule 78 ‘applies to the driver despite any other rule of the Australian Road Rules’ so that the obligation to get out of the way of the emergency vehicle overrides the other road rules, thereby given an excuse to do things such as pull over and stop in a no stopping zone or even moving through a red traffic light.  For more details, including a discussion on the difference in the law between Western Australia and every other state and territory, see Making Way for Emergency Vehicles (May 18, 2015).

My correspondent next asked – what would be my view ‘on national legislation compelling road users to stay clear of emergency vehicles, including provisions exempting those users from infringements should they break the road rules themselves so as not to impede an emergency vehicle?’  My view is that those provisions already exist.

Finally, ‘should there be a push to implement such amendments, would this be an opportune time to include national legislation around speed limits at locations where emergency service workers are undertaking activities on or near a roadway?’  As explained above, the premise here is wrong as there is no need for ‘a push to implement such amendments’ as the amendments my correspondent wants to see are already the law.  As for speed limits around emergency workers, this has been implemented in South Australia (see No Special Speed Zones When Passing Emergency Service Vehicles Except in South Australia (January 4, 2017)).   No doubt other states will be influenced by the SA experience if they consider similar measures.

The Australian Road Rules are written by the ‘the Transport and Infrastructure Council. The Council consists of the ministers responsible for road traffic matters in each state and territory, and of the Commonwealth Minister responsible for transport matters’.  It is a cooperative exercise but the Ministers are advised by the relevant departments.  If the emergency services could persuade the relevant road transport authorities that the SA model should be adopted nationally that could be done.   Whether there is any desire to do it is a matter that I can’t comment on.