Today’s correspondent is a volunteer with the SES in Western Australia. They have
… recently purchased a vehicle, and have fitted discreet LED amber beacons as well as a removable magnetic amber roof beacon to help visibility while the vehicle is stationary on a busy section of road. If I have the time, I try to be a Good Samaritan to do emergency traffic management or stop for the purposes of providing first aid at an accident while waiting for a higher authority (police, fire, ambulance or SES, etc).
Both of those tasks are offered as a member of the public, not in any capacity as an SES volunteer and I only wear a high vis vest, not my SES uniform when I do it.
I park well off the road, and use the lights to warn traffic that there is something happening ahead. When I’m driving normally for everyday things like shopping, etc, I hide the mag roof beacon and ensure the switch can’t be accidentally activated. The lights are for stationary use and offer no exemptions for any traffic rule. The exterior of the vehicle looks like any normal one.
I get a lot of mixed messages about the legality of it. I’ve had people say that it’s flat outright illegal and I risk a large fine and impoundment, and others say that I’m actually not going to cause a huge fuss if I use it only when circumstances dictate that it would be reasonable to use any equipment when needed in a large enough incident.
Can you clarify if at all possible? In WA, almost every 4wd has a beacon permanently fitted to the exterior of the vehicle, and they don’t seem to be pulled over.
The relevant rules are the Road Traffic (Vehicle) Regulations 2014 (WA).
A vehicle other than an exempt vehicle or a special purpose vehicle ‘must not display — (a) a light that flashes…’ (reg 327(2)).
An exempt vehicle is (reg 327(4)) is:
(a) an emergency vehicle;
(b) an Australian Protective Service vehicle;
(c) an Australian Customs and Border Protection Service vehicle;
(d) an Airservices Australia vehicle; or
(e) any other type of vehicle approved by the CEO and used in conformity with any conditions that may be imposed by the CEO
The vehicle described by my correspondent is not an exempt vehicle.
‘[A] special use vehicle may be fitted with one or more flashing yellow lights (or flashing lights of another colour or colours approved by the Director General)’ (Regulation 327(3)(b)). A special use vehicle is (regulation 327(4)):
(a) a vehicle built or fitted for use in hazardous situations on a road;
(b) a vehicle that because of its dimensions is permitted to be driven only in accordance with —
(i) an order or permit as defined in section 32 or 38; or
(ii) a permit issued under regulation 453 or 454;
(c) a vehicle built or fitted to accompany a vehicle mentioned in paragraph (b);
(d) a bus fitted, before July 1999, with a sign telling road users that the bus carries children;
(e) a transport enforcement vehicle;
(f) any other type of vehicle approved by the CEO and used in conformity with any conditions that may be imposed by the CEO.
A special use vehicle includes a vehicle ‘fitted for use in hazardous situations on a road’. On one argument fitting yellow lights would be to fit the vehicle for use in hazardous situations but that would be circular. It would mean any vehicle fitted with yellow flashing lights is entitled to be fitted with yellow flashing lights. Merely ‘fitting’ yellow lights cannot make a vehicle a special use vehicle, there must be more such as the vehicle is used by an authority or agency that has cause to operate in hazardous situations on roads. That might include a group established to provide motorcycle escorts for bike rides (see Is An Escort Motorcycle A “Special Use” Vehicle In Queensland (March 4, 2017) but it can’t be any private vehicle.
But regulation 327(3) isn’t strictly correct because all vehicles must display flashing lights. Regulation 331 says:
A turn signal … must —
(a) consist of a steady or flashing illuminated yellow sign at least 150 mm long and 25 mm wide that — …
(d) when in operation, be visible from both the front and rear of the vehicle at a distance of 30 m.
Further there are provision for the use of hazard lights – hazard lights are ‘the turn indicator lights on a vehicle when set to display regular flashes at the same time, and at the same rate, as each other’ (Road Traffic Code 2000 (WA) r 188).
There are other provisions for the use of yellow or amber flashing lights by tow trucks (Road Traffic (Vehicle) Regulations 2014 (WA) r 410); a towing vehicle, a pilot vehicle or an escort vehicle (r 443) and agricultural implements and agricultural combinations (rr 428, 431, 438, 441, 444 and 450) but they are not relevant here.
A person must not drive or use a vehicle unless there is compliance with each provision in this Part that applies to the vehicle or a combination of which the vehicle is a part’ (Road Traffic (Vehicle) Regulations 2014 (WA) r 232). The maximum penalty is a fine of 16 PU or an on the spot fine of 2 PU (n WA a penalty unit for road offences is $50 (Road Traffic (Administration) Act 2008 (WA) s 7).
If the vehicle is stopped by the side of the road and my correspondent has got out of it then they are not driving the vehicle. The vehicle must not be driven except in compliance with the rules but r 327(2) says the vehicle must not display a light that flashes. So if the lights are only on when the vehicle is parked and the driver is out of the car, arguably no offence is committed.
The Road Traffic (Administration) Act 2008 (WA) defines ‘use’ ‘… in relation to the use of a vehicle on a road, includes the drawing or propelling, in any manner, of a vehicle on a road’. Again it would appear that a stationary parked vehicle is not being ‘used’ (subject to any case law on the point, and this is already getting too long to find that).
On the face of it, the use of the flashing yellow lights on the vehicle is illegal unless the fitted LED lights are part of the indicator lights and come on with the hazard lights and all flash at the same time – ie do not have a strobe effect. I can imagine the registration authority taking a dim view of the ‘fitted discreet LED amber beacons’ but police, at a scene, may take a pragmatic view of the removable roof light, but whether they do or not is up to them.
There is an argument that if the vehicle is parked and the driver is out of the car, then the car is not being either driven or used, in which case no offence under the Road Traffic (Vehicle) Regulations 2014 (WA) r 232 and 327(2) is being committed, but you’d have to be prepared to take that before a magistrate to confirm that is indeed the case.