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.
Michael, What currently occurs in most cases in South Australia re SES taskings, rarely will a crew be deployed without a vehicle due the equipment required to undertake many tasks. what we do establish is a work safety zone, which at the moment has a 40 km/h speed restriction, and set out additional e-flares (red – blue flashing) at the end of the work zone, identifying the extent of the work area and subsequent reduced speed zone. This practice I suspect will remain when the new legislation comes into effect. When the work is required on a road area, the common practice is to place the vehicle at the beginning of the area in a position which acts as a safety barrier to the operatives,the area bordered by safety cones and e-flares distributed along the coned off area. Each response vehicle in our particular Unit caries 4 e-flares for such occurrences and as a added night time safety measure. .
Chris, thanks for that. I do appreciate that in nearly all cases an emergency service is unlikely to leave it’s crew without a vehicle, but thinking of the ‘what if’s’ is what lawyers are meant to do. It’s a possibility, even though unlikely, and it does seem silly that the reduced speed limit does not apply if there is no emergency service vehicle stopped between the red/blue lights at each end of the ‘work zone’. Surely those lights sufficient and it seems unnecessary to require both the lights, and a stopped emergency service vehicle, but that is what the Act will say come 1 September.
I am from a CFS Brigade which regularly attends incidents on the S.E. Freeway, normal speed limit 110km/hr. When we are in attendence, the Road traffic authority normally reduce the speed limit to 60 or even 40km/hr. I can see 25km/hr causing horrific traffic snarls and possibly more accidents as people try to reduce speed quickly. Incidently I have no problems in feeling “safe” on the Freeway under the current regime.
When a Police car pulls over a motorist, the police car normally sits by the freeway with red and blue lights to increase their visibility. Does this mean that all traffic has to (quickly) slow from 110 to 25km/hr? Good luck if a B-double is following you!
Thanks for the comments, Richard. That is a good point about the police and yes it will mean the traffic has to slow to 25km/h. It would create an interesting argument if the police simply sat by the roadside with red/blue lights and booked anyone travelling over 25km/h.
I just got $906 fine cop car was just sitting there with lights on no fire or ambulance truck what do I do please help
I’m afraid I can’t give specific legal advice, but I do note that for the purpose of an ’emergency service speed zone’ an emergency vehicle is a vehicle used by an emergency worker which includes a police officer (Road Traffic Act 1961 (SA) s 83). If follows that if there was a police car with red/blue lighgts on there was an ’emergency service speed zone’, it does not matter whether or not there was a fire appliance or ambulance there. Having said that whether or not there is any action you can take with respect to the notice depends on the facts as well as peculiarities of South Australian law. You should make arrangements to see a solicitor of your choice or attend a legal advice service such as your local community legal centre.
It’s unclear to me if this applies to emergency vehicles stopped completely off the roadway, such as on a wide shoulder or prescribed parallel parking area, or only vehicles stopped within or partially within a traffic lane (i.e. “on the road”). The Driver’s Handbook (http://mylicence.sa.gov.au/road-rules/the-drivers-handbook/speed-limits) depicts an ambulance partially within the affected driver’s lane in the illustrated example which seems like the most obvious and least helpful situation they could have chosen to depict.
I also wonder which lanes the speed limit applies to on a multi-lane road and if it applies equally to both directions of travel if there is no median divider.
A common example would be a police car on the shoulder of a median-less highway with lights flashing, apparently having pulled over another vehicle. I suppose I would slow to 25km/h if I was approaching this situation from behind in the leftmost lane. If there was an overtaking lane, would it also be limited to 25km/h? Which would be the correct lane to use?
Now say I’m approaching the above situation in the oncoming lane instead; do I slow to 25 even with a clear lane or two between my lane and the stationary vehicles? As Richard suggested above, at some point excessive slowing becomes hazardous. I’m one of the rare breed of drivers who actually slow to 25 in 25 zones and I don’t want to be doing 25 when I’m “supposed to” be doing 110.
An emergency service speed zone is ‘… an area of road— (a) in the immediate vicinity of an emergency vehicle that has stopped on the road and is displaying a flashing blue or red light (whether or not it is also displaying other lights)…’ What is the ‘immediate vicinity’ is open to debate in particular circumstances so the Act does not make it clear whether the lane furthest from the emergency vehicle is an emergency service speed zone, or how far before, or after, the vehicle remains in that zone. It will initially be up to police to decide and if you think you were not in the ‘immediate’ vicinity, then a court will have to decided. Given the Act specifically says that the other side of a median strip is not in the ‘zone’ I would have thought any lane going in the same direction is in the ‘zone’. By inference too, in the absence of a median strip, any lane coming toward the emergency vehicle might also be in the ‘zone’. It’s a matter that is left to the discretion of police and the courts.
It doesn’t matter where the emergency vehicle is, the zone is the road in their immediate vicinity. Further the term ‘road’ includes a ‘road related area’ which in turn includes ‘any public place that is not a road and on which a vehicle may be driven, whether or not it is lawful to drive a vehicle there’ (Road Traffic Act 1961 (SA) s 5) so that would include the verge of the road. I would infer therefore if the emergency vehicle is on the shoulder of the road, but completely out of the lane, the roadway remains an emergency service speed zone.