Or so reports the Brisbane Courier Mail.

The difficulty this article demonstrates is the effect of the exemption for the drivers of emergency vehicles under the Australian law. The Queensland provision, s 144 of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 says:

Provisions of this Act about offences (other than section 79 and 80) do not apply to a police officer while exercising a power, or performing a function, under this or another Act.

(Sections 79 and 80 relate to driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs). Other provisions are found in the Australian Road Rules that are incorporated into Queensland law by the Transport Operations (Road Use Management – Road Rules) Regulation 2009. Section 306 says:

306 Exemptions for drivers of emergency vehicles
A provision of this regulation does not apply to the driver of an emergency vehicle if–

(a) in the circumstances–
(i) the driver is taking reasonable care; and
(ii) it is reasonable that the provision should not apply; and

(b) if the vehicle is a motor vehicle that is moving–the vehicle is displaying a red flashing light or sounding an alarm.

Neither of these sections make it clear when they are to apply. The article in the courier mail reports:

Under section 144 of the Transport Operations Act, police are exempt from some road rules when responding to a car crash, a disturbance or police in need of assistance and during pursuits and ambulance escorts.

But that is not what the section says. The section provides that the officer must be “exercising a power, or performing a function, under this or another Act” and whether or not the officer is doing that is debatable. Clearly internal affairs investigators are forming a view and if the officers are paying the fine they are accepting that view, but there is nothing to stop the police challenging the infringement in court if they believed they were acting to exercise a power or perform a function under an Act.

The Australian road rules provision says it only applies if it is reasonable that it should do so and if the driver was exercising reasonable care in the circumstances. Matters that could always be arguable depending on the circumstances.

Earlier provisions, such as the Traffic Regulations 1935 (NSW) s 65 (now repealed) provided that the driver was exempt the road rules if they were giving the best practicable warning possible, that is lights and sirens were activated. That did give a blanket exemption that could be relied on when it was inappropriate but at least drivers of emergency vehicles knew where they stood. If the lights and sirens were on, they would not get a ticket but could be subject to internal discipline if they were abusing their power. It must also have made it easier for enforcement agencies (the police or RTA in NSW) to see that if the photo showed a fire truck, ambulance, police car or the like with the beacons flashing, that a ticket should not be issued.

Under the current law, the driver of an emergency vehicle cannot know if he or she is exempt from the provisions until an internal investigator has looked into the matter, and invited the officer to respond (at what time and cost?) and then come to their view as to whether the officer was acting in the exercise of his or her duty or acting reasonably. A prudent, self interested police officer, fire fighter, ambulance officer might well decide that operating with lights and sirens isn’t worth it. A volunteer emergency worker may well decide that being a volunteer fire fighter or SES volunteer is OK provided they don’t have to do the driving.

This can’t be good for emergency response in Queensland or anywhere.

Michael Eburn