This question from a correspondent in Queensland:

I’d like to ask your opinion on a part of the “Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995”, specifically division 18, section 99 of the Vehicle Standards and Safety Regulation.

I am a Traffic Response officer. We respond to traffic incidents such as Breakdowns, Traffic Accidents, Debris, Pedestrians and basically any other kind of road hazard. This job sees us entitled to exemptions from certain road-rules, under very specific conditions by way of a “Special Circumstances Permit”. Unfortunately, despite the fact that these exemptions allow us to perform actions and enter situations which would generally be unexpected by the travelling public, our only way of warning people of this is the activation of 360 degree amber flashing lights, and forward-facing white flashing lights. In high-speed areas, these do very little to slow oncoming traffic, and we can easily be alone on-site awaiting emergency services for considerable amounts of time (unfortunately it goes with the territory when at accidents). We have been told that if we were to fit rearward-facing red flashing lights that it would constitute an offence. I do not believe this to be the case.

The legislation states that:
special use vehicles means any of the following vehicles—
(a) a vehicle built or fitted for use in hazardous situations on a road;

A Traffic Response Unit by its very nature meets the criteria for “Special Use Vehicle”

(4) A vehicle, other than an exempt vehicle, a special use vehicle or a sugar cane trailer or a vehicle towing it must not be fitted with a light that flashes.

Therefore, a Traffic Response Unit may be fitted with flashing lights

(5) A vehicle, other than an exempt vehicle, must not be fitted with a light or reflector that—
(a) shows a red light to the front; or
(b) shows a white light to the rear.

The legislation specifically states both the color and direction of lights which it wants to prohibit.

(3) A vehicle may be fitted with any light or reflector not mentioned in these standards.
This standard does not specifically exclude rearward-facing, red flashing lights.

I’d like to know what your interpretation of this particular rule is. I cannot see a problem with fitting rearward-facing red flashing lights, as the legislation allows us to have:
– A light that flashes
– Any light or reflector not mentioned.
It fails to exclude rearward reds. In fact, as much as I know it would kick up a stink…Magenta isn’t mentioned either!

The full title of the relevant regulation is the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Vehicle Standards and Safety) Regulation 2010 (Qld). The relevant vehicle standards are set out in Schedule 1. The relevant definitions, quoted above, come from that schedule. S 99 of the Schedule is headed ‘Other lights and reflectors’. S 99(1) says:

(1) Despite any requirement of a third edition ADR—
(a) an exempt vehicle may be fitted with any light or reflector; and
(b) a special use vehicle may be fitted with 1 or more flashing yellow lights; and
(c) a sugar cane trailer or a vehicle towing it may be fitted with 1 or more flashing yellow or green lights.

We can accept for the sake of the argument that the vehicle driven by my correspondent is a ‘special use vehicle’ so it may be fitted with 1 or more flashing yellow lights.

As my correspondent has noted they want rear facing red flashing lights; s 99(5) only refers to forward flashing red lights and s 99(3) says ‘A vehicle may be fitted with any light or reflector not mentioned in these standards’. So, the argument goes, a special use vehicle may be fitted with a flashing light (s 99(4)) so it may be fitted with a rear facing red flashing light as there is nothing that says it cannot be.

I have to say that conclusion would be surprising and clearly not the view of the Queensland enforcement authorities; my correspondent tells me that when he’s put that argument to relevant transport inspectors he’s been told that if they fit the lights, they will be fined. The inspectors will have received their training and formed their own view of the legislation. If the lights were fitted they could issue an infringement notice in which case it would be up to a Magistrate to determine whether or not the lights represent a breach of the standards.

The immediate reaction has to be that one cannot simply install whatever lights or reflectors one wants, even given s 99(3) of the Vehicle Standards. I have been asked many questions about whether or not people can fix flashing warning lights to their vehicles; a safe starting point is to assume that the answer is ‘no’. No-one is going to be allowed to fit red/blue or other flashing lights to their own vehicle on their own initiative. The lights have meaning and implications for other road users so they will not be permitted without official sanction. The argument, above, appears logical but if one applies a ‘reality’ test, it can’t be correct, so the trick is to look elsewhere to see if there are restrictions.

The answer, in this case, is found in the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Vehicle Standards and Safety) Regulation 2010 (Qld) s 10 entitled ‘Modifying vehicle’ and which says:

(1) A person must not— …
(c) fit a light or reflector to a vehicle unless the light or reflector is required to be fitted to the vehicle or is optional equipment for the vehicle…

What is ‘optional equipment’ is not defined, but the term optional is used three times in the vehicle standards, for ‘Alternative tyres, rims and wheels’ (s 44), ‘Optional side reflectors’ (s 95) and ‘Optional front reflectors’ (s 98). On that argument, a flashing, red facing rear light is not ‘required to be fitted to the vehicle’ and is not optional equipment is listed in sections 44, 95 or 98, in which case it would be an offence to fit that light without approval. If that’s correct however, fitting a forward facing white flashing light would also be impermissible.

Where a vehicle has been modified (including fitting a light or reflector (s 10)) the modification must be approved by an authorised officer or person (s 13). My correspondent tells me that they operate under a ‘Special Circumstances Permit’. A ‘Special Circumstances Permit’ is issued under the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Accreditation and Other Provisions) Regulation 2005 (Qld) s 106. The permit allows the permit holder to use the road in a particular way and may include conditions regarding ‘the display of warning signs and warning lights’. It may be that the permission to fit forward facing flashing white lights is provided for in that permit.

Further, it is not clear who owns the vehicle being used as a special use vehicle. If my correspondent is an employee, and the vehicle is owned by an employer, it may well be that they have sought and obtained permission to modify the vehicle by fitting the flashing white lights (remembering that as a special use vehicle it is allowed to have flashing lights).

If those assumptions are correct, that is the use of the yellow light is permitted by standard 99(1)(b), and the use of the white lights are permitted by the terms of the ‘special circumstances permit’ and/or are an approved modification under s 13, then it would follow that fitting a rear facing flashing red light would be contrary to the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Vehicle Standards and Safety) Regulation 2010 (Qld) and could lead to a defect notice being issued and an appropriate penalty notice (ss 5 and 8).

Michael Eburn
13 July 2013.