At first glance the road rules introduced by South Australia and now NSW and Victoria are there to save lives but the reality is all they do is kill people. No-one is suggesting that emergency workers do not deserve protection on the road but the rules introduced to save them have done anything but and have costs lives, people licenses and created confusion where you have different laws in different states that have not been communicated properly to the drivers especially those from interstate.
This points again to the problems with Australia where each state whilst following the Australian Road Rules also introduce their own laws without any regard to other states nor looking at the experiences in other countries.
These are the road rules in question for each of the states that have introduced them and following them is the simple rule that all drivers across Australia should be using.
Drivers are now required to travel at 25km/h when driving through an emergency service speed zone. This law came into effect on 1 September 2014.
The 25km/h Emergency Service Speed Zone applies on an area of road:
- In the immediate vicinity of an emergency service vehicle that has stopped on the road and is displaying a flashing blue or red light; or
- Between two sets of flashing blue or red lights that have been placed by an emergency worker at either end of a length of road on which an emergency vehicle has stopped.
- It does not apply if you are driving on a road that is divided by a median strip and the emergency service speed zone is on the other side of the road beyond the median strip.
An emergency services vehicle includes:
- Fire service vehicle (CFS, MFS or Federal Aviation Rescue)
- State Emergency Services (SES) vehicle
Penalties are the same as speeding, if in a 80, 100 or 110kph zone and you can’t or don’t slow down you face immediate loss of license no matter what state you come from.
From 1 July 2017 you must slow down to a speed that would enable you to stop safely when approaching and passing enforcement, emergency or escort vehicles that are stationary or moving slowly (less than 10km/h)*, and have either:
- Red and blue flashing lights
- Magenta (purple flashing lights)
- An alarm sounding.
You must not exceed 40km/h when passing the vehicle and not increase your speed until a safe distance from the scene (more on this below).
The new road rule does not apply to vehicles on the opposite side of a divided road (separated by a median strip) from an emergency or enforcement vehicle scene.
- A fire truck extinguishing roadside spot fires is an example of a slow moving emergency vehicle.
A ‘safe distance’ has not been defined in the road rule because every incident will be different.
The infringement penalty for breaching the new road rule is 1.75 penalty units ($272.05), with the maximum court penalty of 5 penalty units ($777.30). No demerit points apply.
The new rule from the 1st of September 2018 requires motorists to slow down to 40km/h when passing a stationary emergency vehicle displaying blue or red flashing lights.
The rule also requires motorists to give way to any person on foot in the immediate area of the emergency vehicle. Motorists should not increase their speed until they are a safe distance past the vehicle.
For everyone’s safety, motorists must slow down to 40km/h when passing stationary emergency vehicles displaying blue or red flashing lights
The rule applies to vehicles travelling in both directions, unless the road is divided by a median strip
Motorists who do not comply with the rule will face a $448 fine and three demerit points with the maximum court penalty of $2,200.
SLOMO (Slow Down, Move Over) law was introduced on the 2nd of March 2018.
The SLOMO law requires drivers to slow down to 40 km/h when approaching specific stationary emergency vehicles which are displaying flashing lights while attending an incident.
SLOMO applies to all emergency service vehicles and first response personnel who need to attend to roadside incidents very quickly. Their priority is the safety and survival of the person requiring assistance.
As well as emergency vehicles, SLOMO includes tow trucks, RAC roadside assistance patrol vehicles, and Main Roads Incident Response Vehicles, which assist with the removal of broken down vehicles and debris.
Vehicles travelling in oncoming traffic from the other direction will not be required to slow down.
However, if there is an incident that has occurred in the middle of the road or on a median strip for instance, traffic in both directions would be required to slow down if lanes in both directions are affected by an incident.
The penalty for this offence is three demerit points and $300.
Four states with four different laws that apply to different vehicles.
- South Australia fines you for exceeding the 25kph speed limit and loss of license is easy, another state has a fine but no demerit points and two other states have different demerit points and fines.
- Victoria requires you to slow for slow moving or stationary vehicles and the other three only for stationary.
- West Australia requires you to move over where possible, the other three do not.
- West Australia also doesn’t apply to traffic coming in the other direction without a median strip whereas the others do.
- Each state applies the laws to different emergency vehicles and one includes roadside service.
- Every state has different interpretations of how soon you can speed up again.
Problems with implementation
Victoria didn’t enter the correct offence code so all fines had to be withdrawn as three points were assigned to those fines when no points should apply. However police started issued summons to appear in court until the issue was resolved. [source]
It took just one day after Victoria’s new 40km/h speed limit when passing emergency vehicles was introduced before a big truck slammed into the rear of a small sedan writing it off. [source]
A NSW driver who was unaware of the 25km/h rule in South Australia was fined $1007, disqualified from driving for 6 months after driving past two police cars with their red and blue lights on in early 2018 before laws were introduced in NSW. The police were located 12m off the road and she passed them at a speed of 85km/h hour in a 110km/h zone. The driver was a female on her own travelling from Northern NSW to visit friends in Adelaide, she had driven for 49 years with no infringements and had to find a place to store her caravan and organise a lift to get back home. [source]
South Australian Police and RAA suggested an increase in speed to 40km/h”But SAPOL and the RAA said it had led to a potentially dangerous situation on stretches of high-speed road — the South-Eastern Freeway in particular.” The government however refuse to increase the speed. [source]
More ambiguity around the new laws with NSW Roads Minister, Melinda Pavey claiming that it’s up motorists how fast they slow down and to what speed. “In response to these concerns, NSW Roads Minister, Melinda Pavey, said it is up to motorists to assess whether it is safe to slow all the way down to 40km/h.
“To slam your breaks on to get down to 40 is dangerous and no one expects people to be driving in an unsafe manner,” she told ABC radio.
“We must be aware of what is behind us, appreciating and respecting that it takes a truck a lot longer to slow down.”” [source]
Cop injured under emergency speed rule [source]
What should we do?
Implement an Australian wide law similar to the United States move over laws which refer to requiring drivers to give a one lane buffer to stopped emergency vehicles. For example, while driving in the right lane, if the driver sees a stopped police car, the driver is required to move one lane over to the left to give enough buffer space to avoid any potential accidents.
Communicate changes to laws such as this by including an insert with vehicle registration papers as not everyone watches TV or reads News Papers to see advertising that is costly and ineffective. Distribute for free printed road rule refreshers at newsagencies, service stations and car servicing locations. Given that most people have to fill their car advertise road rule changes on the pumps or other parts of the service station.
The idea that it’s safe to have to brake heavily from 110km/h to 40km/h or 25km/h shows just how out of touch our lawmakers are.
Another system to use in conjunction with the United States move over laws is to look at how they deal with this in Germany with their unrestricted autobahns, police use a digital sign in the rear window to indicate to the driver to follow and they pull over in a safe location away from the road. Another easy solution to this problem that the Australian Governments will never consider just like the United States one above.
Simply put, Australian Governments will never introduce clear uniform laws across all the states.