It’s been a while since I posted on this blog, so there’s been few legal developments (as opposed to recommendations for legal developments) or at least none that have been brought to my attention. This post is in response to a question from a subscriber and returns to the issue of fitting red/blue lights to private cars, this time in NSW and the ACT.
An edited version of the email I’ve received is below:
I am a New South Wales Rural Fire Service volunteer …[I live in the] ACT and my response time to the station [is] … about 20 minutes … even at night in minimal traffic. Being a relatively small brigade, the truck has usually left within about 10 minutes with three or so members and there generally aren’t enough troops for a second turn out.
With this in mind, I have been researching what the requirements would be to fit red or red and blue flashing lights and a siren to my personal vehicle and the legality in regard to using it. I have the slight advantage of having properties that I reside in in both ACT and New South Wales … so I can register my vehicle in either jurisdiction.
This issue has been addressed on this blog before but in relation to other jurisdictions including Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. The answer will require looking at how the Australian Road Rules have been incorporated in NSW and the ACT as well as how the design standards have been implemented in each jurisdiction. Before that however there are I think some general comments that are probably worth repeating. In my post Further discussion on the use of red warning lights I said:
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 [that fitting the lights is lawful], 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 issue in NSW has been discussed in comments on my post Red/blue lights on CFA Slip on unit so I’ll start there.
Under the Road Rules 2008 (NSW) an emergency vehicle is a vehicle “driven by a person who is: (a) an emergency worker, and (b) driving the vehicle in the course of his or her duties as an emergency worker.” An emergency worker includes “a member of a … rural fire brigade … providing transport in the course of an emergency” (both these definitions are found in the Dictionary that is set out at the end of the Rules and which define words for the purposes of those rules, see Road Rules 2008 (NSW) s 4).
What can be fitted to vehicles in the way of lights is set out in the Australian Vehicle Standards that are, for the purposes of NSW, set out in Schedule 2 of the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 (NSW). Rule 33(2) says “A motor vehicle must not be fitted with a device that can make a sound like the sound of a siren… “ however that rule does not apply to ‘an emergency vehicle’ (rule 33(3)).
Rule 124(3) says “an emergency vehicle or police vehicle may be fitted with any light or reflector” but that does not extend to a flashing light – only vehicles listed in rule 124(4) may be fitted with flashing warning lights and that list does not include ‘an emergency vehicle’ – the list is more restrictive and for fire fighting, refers to ‘fire fighting vehicles’.
In theory, then, a vehicle driven by a member of the Rural Fire Service, who, in the course of his or her duties is providing transport in an emergency’ could be fitted with a siren and any light other than a flashing light; but even that can’t be correct and it’s not and the reason it’s not is the vague definition of what ‘duties’ and ‘emergency’ might mean.
My correspondent noted that and asked:
“… at what point am I undertaking duties? In my opinion, it is from the moment I am made aware of the emergency and make the decision to attend; I put the uniform on and get into my car to travel to the station. My understanding is that the moment I get that call and travel to the station I am covered by the service’s insurance policy, so I would expect that is when I am undertaking my duties.”
That may be correct in that the Workers Compensation (Bush Fire, Emergency And Rescue Services) Act 1987 (NSW) may apply as you turn out from home and make your way to your station so let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that you are performing ‘your duties’ at that time, but that doesn’t answer what your duty is. Here I’m going to go out on a limb as I don’t have ready access to all RFS policy documents though the document “Response Driving” is available on the web (see http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/file_system/attachments/State08/Attachment_20130204_6496F640.pdf). That document says:
“Driving under emergency conditions starts from receipt of the instruction to ‘respond’ in an RFS vehicle and stops when there is no longer a risk at an incident or a requirement to respond.” It goes on to say “Members in private vehicles driving to the brigade station or direct to the incident are to observe all Australian Road Rules at all times.”
So you may be proceeding to the station as part of your duties in order to respond to an emergency, but it is not part of your duties to ‘respond’ to the station. Response driving is only part of your duties when you are instructed to do so by the “Incident Controller (IC), District/Team/Zone Manager (D/T/Z) or other person with delegated authority.”
As I said before, “The argument, [that fitting the lights and sirens is lawful], 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.” You can bet that if you put lights/sirens on your private car the police will pull you up and issue a traffic infringement notice or defect notice. You could go to court and argue the case, above, and there would be some merit in it, but I suspect a Magistrate would hold that given the RFS does not issue the lights/sirens and specifically directs that driving is not to be other than in accordance with the rules, that use of the lights/sirens is not part of your duties so if you use them you are not acting in the course of your duties and therefore you cease to be an emergency worker and the vehicle ceases to be an emergency vehicle; and in any event it cannot be reasonable for any exemption from the rules to apply (Road Rules 2008 (NSW) rule 306) if the RFS says they are not to apply, so even if fitting the lights/sirens is not unlawful, their use would not give you any exemption.
You could apply to the roads authority for approval to fit lights/sirens but without the support of the RFS you would think that approval would never be given.
In short, there is some legal argument to say that fitting a siren and lights is authorised under the Act, but it’s not an argument that I think any court would accept. You cannot fit red/blue lights and sirens to a private vehicle. If the RFS wanted you to respond to the station, they would provide the vehicle to allow you to do that.
I’m not going to now go through the equivalent for the ACT (see Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Regulation 2000 (ACT) and Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2000) but the conclusion will be the same.
The problem no doubt is in the definition of emergency vehicle which in these jurisdictions is any vehicle driven by an emergency worker, other states are more restrictive and talk about vehicles owned by the relevant agencies. This broader definition does give flexibility so in an emergency any vehicle can be an emergency vehicle if being used in the emergency response. When the regulations then go on to say, as they do in the ACT, that an emergency vehicle is an ‘exempt vehicle’ and an exempt vehicle “may be fitted with any light or reflector” (Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2000 (ACT) Schedule 1, clause 1.124) then the argument that these can be fitted to private vehicles, used in the course of one’s duties, is clearly open. But no one, not the RFS nor the traffic authorities want lights, or sirens, fitted to private vehicles. If it went to court I don’t think a magistrate would hesitate to say that they are not permitted as their use is not required by, or part of an RFS member’s duties unless the RFS has said so and itself issued the necessary equipment.
To reiterate, it is arguable that you can fit lights to a vehicle used by a volunteer (particularly in the ACT given the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2000 (ACT) Schedule 1, clause 1.124) but without support from the RFS neither the police, nor I warrant, a magistrate is going to accept the argument and you should expect to be prosecuted. In that sense it’s the sort of argument that, as a lawyer, if my client were charged I would ‘give it a run’ but I wouldn’t actually expect to win. Of course one might win, particularly if you were prepared to take it on appeal to the Supreme Court where the letter of the law is considered in a much more objective way, but if you did, I’m sure the legislature would move very quickly to change the law.
The Act and Rules/Regulations could certainly be drafted better to say for example, that an emergency vehicle is a vehicle “approved by the Commissioner” in which case the Commissioner could nominate what vehicles are ‘emergency vehicles’ and could (either personally or by a delegate) extend that if necessary to vehicles drafted into the emergency response.
In the meantime, the road authorities will never give authority without the support of the RFS and I would expect that a member who went ahead and installed such warning lights could also face disciplinary action and possible removal from the RFS (see Rural Fires Regulation 2013 (NSW) regulations 7 and 9).
I appreciate the discussion, however I think that there are possibly a couple of items for further consideration.
Firstly… Red or red-blue beacons and sirens are first and foremost, safety equipment. They do not *justify* our emergency exemptions from the road rules, altho they are a precondition of making use of those exemptions. Therefore it is possible to argue that the driver of a private vehicle “might” use such safety equipment without exceeding the speed limit or otherwise ignoring normal road rules. In such case, the beacons and/or siren would be “courtesy” equipment, alerting normal traffic to the need of an emergency worker to move through traffic without unreasonable impediment. I believe that this is the case in a number of jurisdictions overseas.
Secondly… Although this discussion is frequently couched in terms of a volunteer using a private vehicle to get to the station, in much of rural NSW, private vehicles are used for firefighting, by members of the NSWRFS. The question then becomes whether RFS members who are undeniably engaged in their duty, are denied the safety equipment that is normally considered essential on ES vehicles. Again,this is not necessarily about exemptions from the Road Rules, but whether the equipment is available when required for safety in abnormal traffic conditions and under reduced visibility.
I do note that in South Australia, the SACFS strongly recommends that private vehicles engaged in firefighting be fitted with an amber beacon for that purpose,however I have never seen that discussedby the NSWRFS .That is possibly diverging into an area of policy, rather than law, but may I ask whether the law has anything relevant to say on the question of alternatives?
Red/blue lights or sirens are a necessary requirement to take advantage of the exemptions under r 306. Other drivers are required to give way to vehicles displaying those lights. It can’t be said that they are just ‘courtesy’ equipment as they do have legal significance and other drivers can’t know how they are being used.
It’s true that private vehicles may be involved in emergency response work and hence the very broad definition of emergency vehicle. It is, fundamentally up to the RFS (or other emergency service) to determine the circumstances in which these devices are used as that goes to the question of whether the emergency worker is performing their duties (part of the definition of emergency vehicle) and whether or not it is reasonable that any exemption apply (rule 306). So if RFS SOPs provide that Group Captains are issued with red flashing lights and are authorised to respond to a fire in their private vehicle, that’s a strong argument that such a response is part of their duties with all that follows. If the SOP is, on the other hand, that people are not to respond in private vehicles and the RFS does not endorse the use of red/blue lights then that is strong evidence that such driving is not part of the fire fighters duties and it’s certainly not reasonable that the road rules don’t apply (rule 306) if the RFS says that they don’t authorise such driving. The letter of the law does not say it’s all up to the RFS, but I think in fact it is.
As for amber lights, see http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/registration/downloads/vsi/vsi_08_flashing_lights_and_sirens_rev_4_1__nov_2010.pdf
Very well. I accept that “courtsey” is not the appropriate term. I was attempting to make the point , in plain language , that using warning devices is not an automatic licence to exceed the limits or assume right of way, etc,and that we need not act as tho they were.
I can’t recall seeing a Statewide RFS SOP that either requires or forbids travelling by private vehicle. As a Deputy Group Captain I am asked/directed to attend incidents, but not provided with a service vehicle. The assumption that I – and most brigade Captains – will attend using private vehicles is so strong that it is normal practice for the Service to fit Service radios to our nominated private vehicles.
Our training and doctrine is that C&C structure is a part of the safety system, as is operating in vehicles with appropriate levels of safety equipment.
Clear as smoke on a bad day…….Peter
Peter, the point I’m trying to make is that the RFS ultimately determines what is one’s duties (whether expressly or by practice). So if you are ‘asked/directed to attend’ or it is accepted or expected that you will attend in a private car then clearing travelling in your private car is part of your duties. You still don’t get an exception from the road rules as there is no blue/red lights or siren, but in that case the car would be an ’emergency vehicle’. As I’ve noted before the biggest benefit that brings is an exception from the parking rules (rule 307).
As for operating vehicles withe the ‘appropriate’ safety gear what is appropriate depends on what is available. If it’s a fire appliance you get all the red/blue lights. I understand Group Captains are issued magnetic red lights for use on scene, not for travelling. If the RFS says that they expect you to travel in a private car in accordance with the road rules then it would not be reasonable for an exception under r 306 to apply.
And in any event, you cannot go and put red/blue lights on your own car just because you think it’s a good idea. If the RFS wants you to have them, it will issue them and that would support the argument that their use is part of the duties (supporting the conclusion that the vehicle is an emergency vehicle) and that it is reasonable that the r 306 exception applies.
There are other legal options for ‘courtesy’ lights as opposed to using red & blue lights, look at a BnS ute for example…. think outside the box 😉
Just quickly, the RFS does not issue everything that it believes to be a good idea. The Service faces massive budget constraints, especially in those areas outside what some refer to ironically as NSW= Newcastle/Sydney/Wollongong. That is not a fault of the Service, the State government faces the need to reduce spending, and the lack of funding in remote rural areas is an artifact of historical funding models.
That is why I refer to training and doctrine as the determinant of what the RFS “approves”, not what they issue.
I have, somewhere, a duty statement that I was required to sign prior to my appointment. I’ll try and dig it out for you..
Peter, thanks for that further information. Certainly if the RFS endorses say proceeding to a fire in a private car then a member doing that must be performing their duties and so their vehicle is an emergency vehicle but they get no benefit from rule 306 without lights and/or siren. But that would not justify buying one’s own warning lights and putting them on a private car. Again the RFS could actually endorse that practice and would be the agency to liaise with both Roads and Maritime Services and the police to determine when that’s to be done and when and how they’re to be used. The point is that it always comes to an ‘argument’. If we imagine a traffic ticket’s been issued and the driver’s elected to take it to court and they want to argue that they were performing their duties and their duties warranted ‘responding’ in a private car and that was authorised by the various rules, if the RFS has issued the warning lights that simply gives a stronger argument. The argument can still be had in the absence of RFS issue equipment (pointing to ‘training and doctrine’) but the evidence in support of the argument is weaker.
I think it’s pretty clear however that all the emergency services do not endorse ‘response’ driving in private vehicles so it’s hard to argue that ‘response’ driving is part of a member’s duty, or that rule 306 should apply even if they have lights and sirens. As you say it’s ‘clear as smoke on a bad day’. The issue is not simply the letter of the law (which does provide a logical argument in support of a right to put warning devices on) but also a ‘reality test’ – would that argument be accepted? As I say (and this is where you need not only to read the Act but an appreciation of how the system actually works) I think the prosecution would have an argument that, in the absence of RFS approval and, more importantly, in the face of express statements that “responding” in a private car is not authorised or endorsed, that such driving is not part of the duties nor ‘reasonable’ for the purposes of rule 306. It would follow that even if there was no offence for putting say a magnetic flashing light on the roof, it would not lawful or meaningful to use it.
Having said that and with the same idea in mind (ie that it all depends on the argument) I suspect a Magistrate would have no problem finding in favour of an RFS driver in the next catastrophic event, when it’s going ‘pear shaped’ and a volunteer does something useful eg put a red light on so others can see and follow them to safety. It’s hard to believe that police officer would bother to prosecute in those circumstances but I’m sure that in that situation the court would dismiss the claim. To a certain extent the success of the argument will be influenced by the outcome – assume there is a fire call on a ‘normal’ day and a volunteer puts a red light on the car, ‘responds’ to the fire station but is involved in a car accident that injures or kills someone or is just caught speeding; I suspect no-one (given the RFS formal position) would give them the benefit of rule 306. Assume the situation I’ve described above, potentially catastrophic outcome and the volunteer may have, arguably, broken a provision of the Road Rules but actually saves people’s lives; then a magistrate is likely to bend over backwards to find a way to hold that they fell within an exemption and no offence was committed.
And it’s a different situation again if you are on the fire ground, not travelling, and just using those sort of lights as part of the safety gear eg to be seen as the control point there are different laws in place then; but again real politik applies, what police officer is going to turn up to a fire ground, find the deputy group captain, and issue a traffic infringement notice? If they’re going to, you take the light off and tell them to park their police car and turn their lights on (see Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) s 41 – But good luck with that, if a cop on the fire ground is more interested in booking the Deputy Group Captain for displaying a red flashing light, than in actually helping they are unlikely to accept that they are required to “support [your] authority”).
I come back however to my starting position which I stand by – that is one can’t be a judge in one’s own cause so it’s not up to volunteers or others to decide red/blue lights and/or a siren is a good idea and then install them on their own car. In the absence of backing/authority from their agency (RFS, SES etc) then I don’t think either the police or a magistrate would accept that as lawful in normal operations including when turing out to a fire call. One could try it but, again, I think you’d have to be prepared to take the matter to the Supreme Court and it would be a pyrrhic victory, the legislature would change the law pretty quick if they thought emergency service personnel (whether volunteer or paid) were installing red/blue lights and sirens on private cars without approval from their agency.
Thanks again. What you say makes sense, and I don’t have the kind of deep pockets that makes me feel like taking this kind of issue to court. Sometimes it is difficult to discern what is actually Local police tend to be reasonable, altho gossip will have it that there are occasional exceptions.
Doctrine as I was taught it – and was required to teach it – was pretty much , “thou shalt not stuff up”. No exemptions to the Road Rules entitle us to drive dangerously and an adverse incident is prima-face evidence that we were not “safe”.
It’s a far cry from when I started in the game. I attended my first major fire as a teenager driving a farm truck for which I had no licence, operating purely on the local Captain’s say-so. I still have no idea whether all of the “crew” who flagged me down near the local pub were still on the back at the end of the night. No PPE, no C&C, no safety gear…. just a truck, a tank and a pump. Nobody died.
What the law “should be” is another discussion, and probably outside the scope of this blog, so I’ll leave it at that…
I have been an emergency service worker for two emergency authorities in NSW for 35 and 27 years respectively. I have seen the question of blue/red light fitment to private vehicles raised many times, and almost exclusively by retained members of FRNSW or RFSNSW volunteers. It has always been raised in relation to those members responding to the station to calls, or to the location of the “incident”, as not all call outs are fires. In my experience, the response is that no, the fire authority would not support the fitment of revolving/strobe red/blue lights and/or sirens to their members private vehicles. The risks of approving such a proposal is infinite.
I would refer you to the NSW RMS Vehicle Standards Information, published 24 November 2010 Rev. 4.1 which is entitled “Lights and Sirens”. This document clearly sets out what coloured lights can (or can’t) be fitted to what vehicles. It also goes onto list quite clearly and extensively what type of vehicle that may be fitted with a siren.
Blue or blue/red combinations can only be used by:
• Police vehicles.
• Ambulances solely used by the Ambulance Service of NSW as defined under the Health Services Act 1997 or a vehicle authorised by the Ambulance Service of NSW under its delegated authority.
• Operational fire brigade vehicles and accredited NSW Rural Fire Service vehicles.
• A vehicle used by a Traffic Commander or a Traffic Emergency Patroller appointed or employed by the RTA.
• State Emergency Service vehicles.
• Vehicles used by an accredited rescue unit as defined in the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989.
The use of blue, or blue and red flashing lights is intended to advise other road users that the vehicle displaying them is responding to an emergency situation. They must only be used when the vehicle is being used for police operational functions or urgent purposes arising from an accident, fire or other emergency.
Red lights can only be used by:
In addition to the vehicles listed above, red flashing lights must only be fitted to:
• Red Cross vehicles used for the conveyance of blood for urgent transfusions.
• Mines rescue vehicles.
• Other rescue vehicles.
• Other emergency vehicles not referenced above that are driven by an emergency worker in the course of their duties, where an ‘emergency worker’ is a person (or one of a class of persons) approved by the RMS (RTA).
A red flashing light warns road users of the presence of a vehicle associated with a risk-to-life situation. It must only be used when the vehicle is being used for urgent purposes arising from an accident, fire or other emergency.
Sirens may only be fitted to the following vehicles
• Police vehicles.
• Ambulances as defined above.
• Operational fire brigade and accredited NSW Rural Fire Service vehicles
• Red Cross vehicles used for urgent blood deliveries
• Mines rescue vehicles approved by the Mines Rescue Board and approved by the RMS (RTA).
• Rescue vehicles accredited by the State Rescue Board and approved by the RMS (RTA).
• Accredited ‘volunteer’ rescue vehicles approved by the State Police Service and approved by the RMS (RTA).
• Australian Federal Police vehicles.
• Australian Customs Service vehicles.
* Airservices Australia vehicles.
• A vehicle used by a Traffic Commander or Traffic Emergency Patroller appointed or employed by the RMS (RTA), or a vehicle used by the RMS (RTA) Vehicle Regulation Enforcement section.
• A person (or person belonging to a class of persons) approved by the Authority.
• A vehicle at least 25 years old that is fitted as a police or emergency vehicle if:
– the vehicle is used for exhibition purposes.
– it is part of a collection of former police or emergency vehicles.
In my opinion this document gives no authority to any person to fit red and/or blue lights or sirens to any private vehicle.
But there are two points of interest. The document states that red lights may be used by “other emergency vehicles not referenced above that are driven by an emergency worker in the course of their duties, where an ‘emergency worker’ is a person (or one of a class of persons) approved by the RMS (RTA). I think the key words here are “emergency vehicles” – I don’t see a private car fitting this description; and what is included in or authorised as “the course of their duties”.
There is also a reference allowing a siren to be fitted to a vehicle owned by “a person (or person belonging to a class of persons) approved by the Authority”.
Is this then an opportunity to pursue the fitment of warning devices to private vehicles? I suspect not.
It is my belief that the RMS (RTA) would not consider the fitment of lights and sirens to private vehicles, owned by members of emergency services, unless it was supported by the FRNSW or RFSNSW, and both these organisations have indicated clearly on numerous occasions that they would not support such a move. This risk of liabilty for actions of their members to their individual organisations is just too great.
In conclusion this document goes on to give “specific” exemptions from the NSW Road Rules (NSWRR)
A person driving a vehicle for police operational functions or urgent purposes arising from an accident, fire or other emergency, may be exempt from complying with the provisions of the NSWRR providing they take reasonable care, it is reasonable that the rule does not apply, and when the vehicle is moving it is displaying a blue and/or red flashing light or sounding an alarm.
Again, I think the keyword here is “may” be exempt. It “may” be up to the responding officer to demonstrate their reasonable care should an incident occur.
The other point of interest here is that this paragraph states when the vehicle is exempt when “displaying a blue and/or red flashing light or sounding an alarm” I understand this to mean that an emergency vehicle may respond on “urgent purposes” by operating a blue and/or red flashing light or by sounding a siren – but not necessarliy both!
George, thank you for that; the problem with the NSW RMS Vehicle Standards Information is that they are not the law, they are the RMS’ interpretation of the law which may or may not be correct. As a lawyer one never trusts the government to get it right, and we also go back to the law as contained in the legislation and regulations to see what it says. It should be noted that the RMS Vehicle Standards Information sheet gives no one authority to do anything. It is not that document that gives exemptions from the Road Rules, it is the Road Rules themsevles. The RMS Information sheet is discussed in the multiple comments following my earlier blog post on “Red/blue lights on CFA Slip on unit” but if you want to know what the law is you actually need to look at the Road Rules 2008 and the various other regulations including the Registration (Vehicle Standards) Regulation..
You say “Red lights may be used by “other emergency vehicles not referenced above that are driven by an emergency worker in the course of their duties, where an ‘emergency worker’ is a person (or one of a class of persons) approved by the RMS (RTA). I think the key words here are “emergency vehicles” – I don’t see a private car fitting this description; and what is included in or authorised as “the course of their duties”.” If we go back to the Road Rules 2008 an emergency vehicle is ANY vehicle being driven by an emergency worker in the course of their duties and that could clearly include a private vehicle, the Rules do not say a vehicle owned by the RFS or SES and it’s meant to give flexibility. It’s what is ‘in the course of their duties’ that gives the agencies control, if they say ‘it is never part of your duties to ‘respond’ to a fire station in your private car then anyone who wants to fit red/blues to their car can’t argue they need that as part of their duties. But equally it is part of one’s duties to attend the fire station or, in other circumstances, it may be part of one’s duties to travel to the emergency in a private car when the appliance has already left the station. That doesn’t give rise to a right to have red/blue lights fitted or to ignore the road rules as ‘response’ driving is not part of one’s duties, but it does allow the police to let you through the road block that is blocking all traffic but emergency vehicles and it should give you a defence under r 307 if you get a parking ticket. The rule of law says that these matters should not be just up to the police but according to law, so if a person complains that you were let through the road block, but they were not, the police constable can say ‘that was an emergency worker driving an emergency vehicle, and you are neither’ not ‘I let that driver through because I liked them but not you’.
It’s true that to be exempt from the road rules it must be reasonable that the exemption applies. The ultimate arbiter of that is a court.
It is also true that the exemption applies if the emergency vehicle is displaying red/blue lights or sounding a siren, you don’t need both. This allows the emergency services to travel on urgent duty at 2am without waking the neighbourhood. BUT the obligation on other drivers to give way also applies if the vehicle has lights or siren on, so people should not think that having the lights on, but not the siren, means something less. To travel with only the red/blues on particularly during the day is just confusing. Either put everything on, or nothing (2am or police trying not to warn offenders excepted).
Thank you Michael for your extensive answer.
Sorry to say that I am now quite confused I thought I had a reasonable grasp of the law. But ‘am not sure now.
To summarise the concerns. I think that the application of private vehicle usage, by emergency workers, there are two distinct applications. The first being a driver making way to the station. The second being the application of that vehicle in some operational capacity. The prime example being a private ute, modified with a slipon unit, to ‘convert’ it into a firefighting appliance.
If it is within the scope of law for an emergency vehicle “not included in the above categories” to be fitted with the red only flashing beacon. But, only while it remains an emergency vehicle. This could be a legally valid option. In laymans terms. When you put the slipon onto the ute, you might fix the red beacon (without the blue beacon or siren) in some temporary fashion. But you need to make sure that this is removed before duties are concluded.
However, I don’t think the validity of this option has been properly tested. Firefighting vehicles which normally fall into the “Red light only” category are firefighting vehicles.belonging to land management agencies, like NP&WS and Forrests NSW. I have only ever seen this done once before, and that was by an RFS Superintendent.
Of course. The NSWRR only apply on roads, or road related areas. So it is concievable that a firefighter could simply fit the red flashing beacon after having left the road.
Failing the alternatives above, and directing one’s concerns to the issue of safety. Where such a private vehicle is being driven operationaly, in poor visilibty conditions (due to smoke, dust, or darkness). A flashing light is needed which satisfies the visibility requirements, while also not being confused with the legal implications of a red or red/blue flashing combination. The normal accepted light is the amber flashing light, and no approval is required from the RMS to fit such a light.
In NSW the colour of lights permitted is set out in the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 (NSW), Schedule 1. Clause 124(7) says:
Again, the critical issue for a private vehicle to be “an emergency vehicle within the meaning of the Road Rules 2008” is that it is being driven by an emergency worker in the course of his or her duties. If your service says it is not part of your duties to ‘respond’ in a private vehicle then no police officer or, more importantly, a court is going to accept the argument from an individual that they believed they should have been, and were, allowed to install flashing warning lights, red or blue, on their own initiative. On the other hand, if your service does say it’s part of your duties, which may be express (ie in SOPs) or implied by accepted practice, or say the issue of a magenetic red light, then a court would be much more willing to accept the idea that this was part of the emergency worker’s duties. And, as noted earlier, I’m sure the circumstances and outcome will also be taken into account.
With respect to slip on units, see my post Tasmania, the national road rules and red/blue lights on a TFS slip-on and Red/blue lights on CFA Slip on unit.
The Road Rules are very flexible and allow the emergency services to make use of all sorts of vehicles (such as motorcyles and calling them an ambulance etc) and it is arguable that a person could be authorised to put say red lights on their private car, but if it’s not supported by their service, there is ample room for police and magistrates to say that it is not lawful and that is what I would expect. Remember that really no-one, not the fire services nor the roads authority nor the police want private citizens deciding that they can install red/blue lights and claim an exemption from the road rules; but the rules are sufficiently flexible that if the emergency service for which a person volunteers wants to support that sort of response, there are options to do it.
For all posts on road rules see https://emergencylaw.wordpress.com/category/driving-and-road-rules/.
Thank you Michael,
I think that this response (and the following article) sets out the legal requirements quite well.
I would be the last to argue that an RFS member, who is driving to the station, should expect to recieve exemptions under Rule 306 of the NSWRR. When the RFS has expressly told them not to drive in such a manner. I would expect that installing a flashing beacon for this purpose would be contrary to the road rules and attract the same sorts of penalties which any member of the public might expect to recieve.
I had in mind those siduations where a private vehicle is being used under the direction of the RFS in an operational capacity. Where the practice is established and approved of by the RFS.
Thanks Benjamin, and “where a private vehicle is being used under the direction of the RFS in an operational capacity. Where the practice is established and approved of by the RFS” then you could, with the authority of the RFS put a red flashing light on the vehicle, as with my example of hiring a bus to transport a crew etc.
Are you aware that the term “Respond” is in-service jargon meaning to get to the incident with all safe alacrity? “Proceed” is the term used when it is not an emergency. A volunteer is doing their “duty” in either mode, when requested to attend the incident.
I have a set of these lights (freely available on E-Bay, the intention is to only use the lights when stationary and parked at a crash scene as a member of the SES or if I come across an accident at any other time. As I have a very dark coloured car,
Without again going through it chapter and verse, if you use the lights you can expect a warning if not an infringement from the police. These lights have meaning and it is not appropriate for people to decide that they think they are justified in putting the lights on their own car. I would caution you against using these even if they are freely available on e-bay. Get a yellow one instead.
Good advice, thanks.
I was thinking, I notice the bloke down the road does part time work as “pilot” in his 4wd for Long/Wide Loads. He has amber (yellow) flashing lights fitted all the time and only uses them when escorting a Long/Wide Load. I DONT have an urge to use any particular colour, so I found a set of alternating White and Amber lights on E-Bay, and only to be used as a support of the Hazard Lights when stationery. Thoughts.
The Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 (NSW) Sch 2, sets out the vehicle standards for NSW. It says:
Clause 82: A device capable of projecting light must not be attached to any vehicle unless it is a device required or permitted to be attached to the vehicle by this Schedule.
Clause 124: … a vehicle must not display or be fitted with:
(a) a light that flashes or rotates, or
(b) a light or reflector that:
(i) shows a red light to the front, or
(ii) shows a white light to the rear, or
(iv) shows a blue light.
An exception is ‘(m) vehicles used to escort vehicles referred to in paragraph (k) or (l)’ ie long and heavy loads (rule 124(4)(m)). So your neighbour can have yellow flashing lights but, given those rules, you can’t have any flashing light, whether white or yellow.
Here’s a risk assessment question; assume you have a flashing yellow light (easy to get) and you are stopped at an accident, hazard lights on etc, are the cops likely to do anything? I’m not sure but I think you can bet London to a brick they’ll take a very dim view if the lights are red and/or blue. Having said that it does appear that even a yellow flashing light on your car is illegal (in NSW).
That makes sense, all it would take would be an eager Police Officer. Since my aim is to prevent cars running into my parked car, would not a set of flashing lights that can be placed on the ground and plugged into the vehicle power socket be OK or even a stand alone unit with battery power no connection to car at all. One could have any colour then?
Clause 124: Says ‘… a vehicle must not display or be fitted with…’ Statutory interpretation rules say every word has to have meaning so ‘display’ means something other than ‘fitted’. A light can be ‘fitted’ to a vehicle whether it’s turned on or off. A light can be displayed even though it is not fitted to the vehicle eg a rotating light with a magnetic base. One could also argue that a light that is sitting on the road is not being displayed ‘on’ or fitted to the vehicle but equally, arguably if the light is connected to the power one could argue that the vehicle is being used to ‘display’ the light even if it is physically removed from the vehicle. Regardless of the argument who wants to get a court attendance notice and have to go and persuade the magistrate on the point?
The issue would be more complex if it was a standalone light with its own battery and no physical connection to the car. Then the issue would be one of displaying the light on a road. The Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) s 123 says ‘A person must not install or display on, above or near a road any sign, signal, marking, structure or other device that might reasonably be mistaken to be a prescribed traffic control device’. Red/blue flashing lights and other warning lights do have particular meaning. In most states they are going to alert drivers to the presence of police and other emergency services depending on the colour. They have further legal meaning in South Australia: see “‘Emergency Service Speed Zones’ in SA from 1 September” (March 21, 2014). Coloured lights whether red/blue, magenta or white could be’ mistaken to be a prescribed traffic control device’ because only authorised organisations can have them and drivers are unlikely to see the subtlety even if they do notice the light is not on a vehicle. Further putting them out is likely to raise police suspicion as to why you have them and when else you may use them. Even if there is no specific offence it’s going to draw a certain amount of attention your way.
Personally if you feel you must have such a light, I’d stick with yellow.
For general visibility when stopped accidents. The hazard lights are usually sufficient.
As for the amber flashing light. I was certain that there are certain classes of vehicle able to carry it. Including those which are required for operating in hazardous environments (eg. Miners, Roadworkers). With the stipulation that such flashing lights are not to be operated when driving on road.
It’s true that there are certain vehicles that may be fitted with flashing warning lights, they are listed in the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 (NSW) Sch 2, clause 124(4). The list goes from (a) to (q) (ie there are 17 categories of vehicles). Clause 124(7) then says what colour lights they can have – police, ambulance, fire brigades, an RMS Traffic Commander or Traffic Emergency Patroller, the SES or a vehicle operated by an accredited rescue unit get blue and red; Red Cross, mines rescue or other emergency vehicle within the meaning of the Road Rules 2014 get red; a vehicle being used by the RMS or a council enforcing excess weight limits legislation get a crimson light; a fire brigade emergency site command vehicle gets a green light and everyone else gets a yellow light unless otherwise approved by the Authority.
It follows that a private vehicle can’t have any flashing or rotating light, yellow or otherwise; but I suspect at a crash scene the police may not be very interested in someone displaying a yellow light but I’m sure they would be if it was any other colour. Remember however my legal conclusion, as in my first reply to the latest comment was ‘even a yellow flashing light on your car is illegal (in NSW)’ (hazard lights are of course excepted – clause 113(4)).
Wow I never thought it could be such a nightmare, I think, having read what you say, that the best course is to go with out, its just not worth it. It seems to me if they want to mess up your day they can find a way, even if the light was locked up in the boot and not connected or displayed. Thanks for the clarity.
The bloke down the road, leaves his amber lights on the car all the time, fixed to a roof rack, drives the kids to school, does his shopping and so on. Naturally he does not turn them on, I presume he only turns them on when escorting a long/wide load. I see all the local tow trucks and the NRMA roadside repair van have amber lights, I presume they have an exemption as well.
Michael, the answer lies in the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 (NSW) Sch 2, clause 124. The vehicles listed there may have the lights ‘fitted’. There is a difference between ‘fitted’ and ‘display’ – a light can be fitted without being displayed, that is they are attached to the vehicle but not turned on, so police, fire appliances, ambulances, breakdown vehicles and vehicles frequently used (not exclusively used) to escort large or oversize loads can all be fitted with lights even when they are not being used. So yest the the local tow trucks (cl 124(4)(g)) and the NRMA roadside repair van (cl 124(4)(h)) do have the relevant permission to be fitted with amber lights.
Midnight onwards are police or emergency vehicles allowed to use excessive sirens through residential. I can understand if it’s an emergency but to approach a set of lights were minimal traffic or no traffic then turn on sirens to disturb residence in Queanbeyan. Is excessive.
The Road Rules 2014 give police and emergency services the relevant exemption if they are using their red/blue lights or sounding the siren (Australian Road Rules 2014 (NSW) r 306 – and in some circumstances the police don’t need either (r 305)! The obligation to give way also applies if all they have on is the red/blue lights (r 79). So the police and emergency services don’t have to have the sirens on, but that doesn’t mean they are not allowed to. The purpose of the red/blue lights and sirens is to warn other drivers of the presence of the emergency vehicle and to warn them that the driver would like right of way to proceed to the emergency. It is for the benefit of other road users and the safety of the emergency service crew. It would be inconsistent with their duty to other road users and their duty to respond to the emergency to suggest there is some duty not to disturb the sleeping neighbours. So are the police and emergency services allowed to use their siren after midnight? Yes. Are they allowed to do so ‘excessively’ – the answer to what is excessive can only be answered by the responding crew, it’s up to them to decide whether in the circumstances the use of the siren is warranted by all the circumstances. The choice is theirs, and theirs alone. If they want to have it on all the way from station to destination they can; and if they think the circumstances warrant it, they should.
Throughout my professional career as an clinical paramedic and later as a scene commander, as has always used both lights and sirens when proceeding on an urgent response. This is irrespective of the time of day or night. In fact, it could be argued that it’s more important have both operating at night as there is an inherent risk of other drivers not complying with roads, jumping stop/give way signs and an increased number of intoxicated drivers on the roads. Furthermore, and more important to me, should I be involved in an incident, I will be able to relay to the investigating officer that all due care and diligence was exercised during the response. Might I wake somebody up by the use of the siren? Possibly. I know which is more important.
I realise I’m rather late to this particular party, but I’d like to address a couple of points, including the use of amber flashing lights by volunteers, as it was suggested above this may be illegal.
The current NSW ‘Vehicle Standards Information’ regarding flashing lights and sirens (http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/documents/roads/safety-rules/standards/vsi-08-flashing-lights-and-sirens.pdf) is, as stated above, an interpretation of the law and not the law itself. But surely it would be difficult for the NSW govt to take action against a person for obeying the advice published by their own Roads and Maritime Services?
The document (and by extension, the agency) advises that any vehicle which operates in hazardous situations may have fitted an amber flashing beacon for use in those situations. It doesn’t try to specify any further exactly what those vehicles may be, but it does include a broad list of example vehicles – among which is ‘volunteer vehicles not accredited by the state rescue board’.
This would seem to allow for emergency service volunteers to fit amber warning beacons to their own vehicle, if the vehicle is likely to find itself in hazardous situations (such as attending the scene of an incident). Given that many volunteers (particularly in rural areas) will meet at the scene rather than drive past it to attend their station, it seems reasonable that those vehicles should be permitted to display amber warning lights at the scene?
The comment ‘surely it would be difficult for the NSW govt to take action against a person for obeying the advice published by their own Roads and Maritime Services’ misunderstands a fundamental notion in western democracy that is the separation of powers.
The legislature makes the relevant Act. The Governor, exercising the executive power, makes regulations so in theory that is the executive arm of government, but the Governor is acting on the advice of the Minister. Further, regulations are tabled before the Parliament and can be disallowed if they Parliament does not approve of them. The parliament may not make the regulations but it does approve them. We can, I think, call that law-making power still an exercise of legislative power albeit a delegated power (hence the phrase delegated legislation).
It is then up to the executive department, in this case RMS, to make sense of the rules which they do with their explanatory documents. If they wish to prosecute someone they may be constrained by their own policy statement, but a police officer need not regard that document at all. And when it comes before a court it is the judicial officer’s job to analyse the law, not the RMS document.
The ‘government’ is not a coherent whole and in particular the prosecutorial role of police and the DPP, and the role of the judiciary is quite independent of government. So the ‘NSW Government’ does not take action as institutions like the police and the courts are separate from the institution of government that passes the law. In short it would not be difficult for a NSW law enforcement agency to take action against a person for obeying the advice published by the Roads and Maritime Services if the advice is wrong.
If that were not the case then the RMS would in fact be the legislature. If no action could be taken because a person behaved in accordance with the RMS document, even though it’s inconsistent with the law passed or approved by parliament, then the law passed or approved by parliament is irrelevant. But RMS is not the legislature.
The document you’ve cited Vehicle standards: Flashing lights and sirens (24 November 2010) may be the most recent version but it is still seriously out of date or at least misleading (I note that it says it was published on 24 November 2010 but it manages to refer to the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2017 which means the various details on its version and relevant date are wrong).
The document itself is wrong. The Light Vehicle Standards Rules set out in Schedule 2 of the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2017 (NSW) says, at cl 114:
As for colours, r 114(7) says
That list is conclusive. It does not say that any vehicle which operates in hazardous situations can have flashing lights. The RMS document says ‘Examples of vehicles which can be fitted with amber/yellow flashing lights are…’ and then gives the relevant vehicles from the list, above. But to say they are ‘examples’ implies they are just to give an idea, not that they are the only vehicles that can be fitted, but that is what cl 114(4) says.
So you are correct, the document from RMS “doesn’t try to specify any further exactly what those vehicles may be, but it does include a broad list of example vehicles” but that is inconsistent with the rules set out in Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2017 and that means the RMS document is wrong.
I also note that the RMS document says ‘Blue, or blue and red flashing lights must only be fitted to:… Ambulances solely used by the Ambulance Service of NSW as defined under the Health Services Act 1997 or a vehicle authorised by the Ambulance Service of NSW under its delegated authority’. I think that is wrong too – see What’s an ambulance? (May 28, 2017).