Back in September 2011 I reported on a private members bill that, if passed, would have reduced the speed limit when passing emergency vehicles from 40km/h to 25km/h (see “Speed limit when passing emergency vehicles in South Australia”). The 2011 Bill did not pass, but Road Traffic (Emergency Service Speed Zones) Amendment Act 2013 (SA) did! The 2013 Act will come into force on 1 September 2014 (SA Government Gazette 16 January 2014, p 122).

From 1 September there will be a 25km/h speed limit, or a limit of such lower speed that is ‘required in the circumstances to avoid endangering any person’ when driving through an ‘emergency service speed zone’.

An emergency service speed zone is that part of the road ‘in the immediate vicinity’ of an emergency vehicle displaying red or blue flashing lights or that part of the road that is between two sets of red or blue flashing lights that have placed there by an emergency worker and where there is an emergency vehicle stopped between those flashing lights. Where the road is divided by a median strip, the ‘emergency service speed zone’ is only on the same side of the median strip as the emergency, not both sides of the road.

It is important to note that where the emergency workers have set up red/blue flashing lights at either end of a stretch of road, the reduced speed limit only applies to that ‘length of road on which an emergency vehicle has stopped’. One can imagine a situation; say a storm response by the SES where the storm and its damage are widespread. An SES vehicle is used to transport a crew that have to do something by the road side so they turn up, put out red and blue flashing lights and get to work. Whilst the SES truck is stopped on the road between the red and blue lights, it is an ‘emergency service speed zone’ and the reduced speed limit applies. If the truck, having dropped off one team, then departs to transport another team to another location, there is no longer an ‘emergency service speed zone’, but surely that is precisely when you want the reduced speed limit to apply. When the team have their truck with them that provides some level of visibility and protection, but when the truck is gone but they are still doing work, they need, even more, the reduced speed limit.

It would make much more sense if the Road Traffic (Emergency Service Speed Zones) Amendment Act 2013 (SA) had provided that an ‘emergency service speed zone’ was the area of road in the immediate vicinity of an emergency service vehicle with red/blue flashing lights or that part of the road between red/blue flashing lights whether or not there was an emergency vehicle stopped there; but it doesn’t say that. In those circumstances the SES would have to deploy extra members to undertake traffic control duties and ‘direct or prohibit the movement of persons, animals or vehicles’ along the stretch of road (Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005 (SA) s 118) which requires extra staff, and still doesn’t impose the lower speed limit.