This question comes via Facebook and I’m not sure of my correspondent’s jurisdiction, but given the National Road Rules, the jurisdiction won’t matter. The question relates to
… the use of emergency warning devices (lights and sirens). On numerous occasions I have witnessed emergency vehicles moving through traffic and / or intersections whilst turning the sirens on and off and relying on lights alone. I have always been told that if you are responding you are to have both lights and sirens on. If the emergency vehicle is involved in an accident and it was found that they did not have all warning devices on, what would be the possible legal ramifications? Any information would be greatly appreciated.
Given, as I said, I don’t know the jurisdiction from which this question comes I’ll use the Road Rules 2014 (NSW) as my exemplar, but the rules are the same nation wide even if the definition of ‘emergency vehicle’ does vary state to state.
The Road Rules 2014 provide that the driver of an emergency vehicle is exempt from the other road rules provided that
- The driver is taking reasonable care;
- It is reasonable that the rule should not apply; and
- The ‘vehicle is displaying a blue or red flashing light or sounding an alarm’ (emphasis added).
Other drivers have to give way if the vehicle is displaying its red/blue lights or sounding the siren (rules 78 and 79).
So the answer is that, on the face of it, emergency service vehicles can respond with only the red/blue lights on and not the siren. But that begs the question of ‘are they are exercising reasonable care?’
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. Not having the siren on is removing one more warning device, but it may be reasonable in some circumstances. Some I can think of are:
- Police who don’t want to alert offenders that they are on their way (but do note that police have their own rule, rule 305 which provides that police may be exempt from the road rules even if they don’t have any warning devices – lights or sirens – activated or even fitted to the car they are using provided that ‘in the circumstances, it is reasonable’. Of course if they have no warning devices fitted or operating other drivers won’t know what’s going on and aren’t required to give way or make way for them. The driver would need to consider the risk they expose others to if they drive like they would if they had lights and sirens operating.):
- Paramedics who are treating a patient in the ambulance and who will be distressed by the sound of the siren, and that may mean, in the circumstances that the ambulance is also travelling relatively slowly and the use of the siren may confuse other road users;
- Travelling in heavy traffic where drivers have limited opportunity to get out of the way so the siren may actually cause distress and increase the risk to others;
- And in comments on an earlier post (see ‘Red/blue lights in ACT and NSW’ (October 10, 2013) there was a discussion on whether it is reasonable to use a siren late at night with little traffic but at the risk of disturbing non-road users.
So the possible legal ramifications are:
- The legislation doesn’t require both siren and lights – one is sufficient;
- A driver should consider what are the risks and why do they want one warning device but not both.
- If it is not ‘reasonable’ to have just the lights and sirens then the exemption may be lost on the basis that the driver was not taking ‘reasonable care’;
- In terms of civil liability, if there was an accident and another person was injured or their vehicle damaged and they tried to recover from the Ambulance service (not the driver) the issue would depend on whether or not the use of the siren would have made any difference, and that would depend on what actually happened. The mere fact that the siren was not on would not determine the issue of liability, it would just be one factor to be considered.
I wonder whether or not your original correspondent has been observing NSWRFS vehicles?
In the RFS, the practice of driving on urgent duty (“responding”) using lights only is widespread.
In the alternative, perhaps they have been observing ASNSW vehicles, where the practice also occurs frequently.
However, before your original correspondent goes back to their agency
and with a loud and confident cry of “But Eburn says…”,
it might be helpful if it was pointed out to them that, ARR notwithstanding,
it may be the rule in their agency that both lights AND siren be used.
Further, compliance with an agency rule may be relevant to the questions of “reasonable care” and circumstantial reasonableness referred to in Rule 306.
And fair point too – the road rules may say you only need lights OR siren but if the agency says you need both, then you need both.
CFA VIC SOP 12 with regard to responding “Code 1”
All drivers of CFA vehicles responding under code 1 conditions shall comply with the following rules:
12.04.1 red an /or blue flashing beacons and lights to be used at all times.
12.04.2 sirens shall be used at all times when there is a risk to other road users or the driver requires another vehicle to give way!
Fairly broad SOP, Assuming road users is as Per the RSRR definition then that includes passengers in the appliance as well!
CFA management have been unwilling to clarify the SOP after multiple requests and heading toward 10 months of requests.
Adam I’m not sure I see the issue. If your saying the driver has to use sirens if there is a risk to passengers (eg from colliding with other traffic) then that seems quite sensible. What needs clarification?
I understand that but our management dont agree 🙄
Tim, very relevant point. The RFS in our district say reds and blues and siren when responding but obviously there are times that the siren is turned off such as behind banked up traffic where the act of having the siren on may force a member of the public to make a bad decision (with the best intentions) such as moving into an intersection to make way for the emergency vehicle. In my understanding if the siren being left on forces the member of the public to enter the intersection and they are involved in an incident I would think that the fault would fall back to me. Obviously once the emergency vehicle can begin to move again the siren would be reactivated.
You both beat me to it! Although not a legal requirement, the agency SOP’s need consideration…
Individual members need not even bother reading the Act. Their agency will have policies and procedures on how to do things (like driving, and when to use lights and sirens etc). These have been written in line with the relevant Acts and Regs and Reviewed by legal types. Just follow your SOP’s and you’ll be acting in accordance with the Act. If your agency says use lights and sirens, do it-; where the Act says “and” or “or” doesn’t really matter. Don’t stress over it.
Also, if the SOP is wrong, the agency which wrote it, not the person who followed it, is responsible for the issue (eg Rutherford FRNSW prosecution).
I’m not sure I agree with that. One can’t really draw an analogy between Work Health and Safety law and traffic law. WHS legislation is intended to place responsibility as high up the chain of authority as possible so under WHS law everyone has responsibilities to ensure the health and safety of a person at work. Traffic law is directed at, in this context, the driver. The driver’s primary obligation is not to injury anyone else so, in simple terms, his or her primary obligation is not to crash. If following the agency SOP’s is likely to lead to an accident then the driver has to depart from the SOPs.
Second, if the issue is whether or not to issue a traffic infringement notice (ie a ticket) it is unlikely the police would even look at the SOPs. They will simply consider what happened. Of course if the situation is more serious and the issue is whether a driver should be charged with dangerous driving causing injury or death there is no doubt that the SOPs would be very much an important part of the investigation.
What follows is that in a motor vehicle accident it’s the driver who will, at first instance, be the subject of any investigation or charge. If in fact their training and instruction was deficient then indeed the agency may be charged under WHS laws but the issue isn’t a close analogy with the Rutherford prosecution (Inspector Mayo-Ramsay (Workcover Authority of NSW) v The Crown in the Right of the State of New South Wales (NSW Fire Brigades)  NSWIRComm 356)
For a further interesting discussion on the interplay of OHS law and traffic law, see this post from Kevin Jones’ SafetyAtWork Blog – ‘Missed lessons from work-related traffic incidents‘ (December 1, 2015).
“Individual members need not even bother reading the Act…”
I don’t agree with this. It is the responsibility of every driver to know the law. The SOP’s of any agency, that a driver may happen to be working for, cannot replace the law. Where a driver is required to depart from the SOP, in the interests of safety or legal observance, the driver should not hesitate to depart from SOP’s.
It should also be noted that many agencies place greater limitations within their SOP’s than are normally seen within the law – and (arguments relating to reasonable care in a legal case not withstanding) a breach of agency SOP is a matter for internal agency discipline. Not the law.
Generally I agree with this and certainly when it comes to criminal law the issue is the law not the internal documents or SOPs. However, with rule 306 a critical issue is that the driver was taking ‘reasonable care’ and if the agency has set out standards as to what it expects then failure to comply with them could go to the question of a) whether the driver was taking reasonable care and b) whether it is reasonable that the exemption should be applied to them. For example the law doesn’t say that one can only exceed the speed limit but by not more than 20km/h but if an agency set that out as its expectation that could be evidence that a driver travelling at 40km/h over the limit should not enjoy the benefit of rule 306. It is however just one factor to consider and does not determine the issue one way or the other.
It is common to turn sirens off in the early hours, if we cant move in traffic and other circumstance where consideration for noise pollution is a courtesy. Ie, when the depot is in a residential area and its 3am in the morning.
I would point out that in WA, when the police came in to explain the changes, the anti hooning law included emergency vehicles. Some officers actually had to front the station manager as the police reported the breaches. Ie, a school zone speed limit must be complied with, the ambulance may not exceed the speed limit by more than 30km.
It does annoy me when the fire brigade always have sirens going in the early hours when there is no need. Seems to be a police and ambulance courtesy.
If we are to go through a red light etc, then sirens are to be going as well.
As far as i am aware, all stations abide by the same guidelines.
Respect for others where possible.
That’s not quite correct. Under the Road Traffic Act 1974 (WA) the police can impound a vehicle if the driver is committing an ‘impounding offence’ (s 79). The relevant offence in this context is ‘Reckless driving’ which includes driving in excess of 155km/h or 45km/h over the speed limit (s 60) but this does not apply if:
The statement that an ‘ambulance may not exceed the speed limit by more than 30km’ is not the law. It may be a rule of thumb that the police or ambulance service use but it’s not the law. The police of course are not the ultimate judges of these matters, they are the first judge only, that is they decide at first instance, whether or not to issue a ticket or lay charges. It is a court that is the ultimate arbiter of whether or not a person was taking reasonable care and whether or not, in the circumstances, it was reasonable to have only red/blue lights on and whether or not the use of the siren would have made any difference to any particular event.
I turn my sirens off at the points you have mentioned. Especially during the night time out of respect for the sleeping public. Also not to scare away potentially unstable mental health patient who may run away if information is given prior.
I will turn them on at early morning/late night though at all intersections where the traffic light is red regardless of the time for our and the public’s safety to take reasonable care.
Why turn them on just because the light is red regardless of the time. Since you should be driving slowly through the lights, coming to a complete stop as required, the siren late at night is pointless, especially if there is no or very little. What ever happened to flashing your headlights put the driving lights on and flash them manually), proper scanning and obtaining evidence that the other traffic has seen you? This culture of sirens on regardless is stupid and naive (and yes I am also having a go at the fire brigade there)….it supposes that we are safe because the siren is on and can relax. Try driving without it on, I bet you will be far more vigilant – as you should be. We should be aware that cars are far more insulated than before with far more audible distractions than ever….lights and visual aids still work best. The fact that we all moan about the vast number of non-emergency cases we attend which are dispatched as an emergency should send a message to us. Emergency driving is a privilege, not a right, and we should drive and act as professional drivers every time.
As has been noted elsewhere, my example of ‘Police who don’t want to alert offenders that they are on their way’ is not a good example in this context as police have their own rule, r 305, which allows them to respond with neither lights NOR siren. This rule does not apply to the fire and emergency services (including ambulance services) which must have the warning beacons OR siren, OR both.
Recently for around couple months our suburb at least you can hear siren twice a day .
Every time last 2 minutes. This morning 7:45am and afternoon 3:4pm. I am not sure if this is necessary? I think this is harmful to the community.
Another time I saw a normal car driving by,and all of sudden the driver putting the lights and siren on and start to drive bit crazy fast.
Of course you don’t know if it is necessary, you don’t know what the emergency services were or are responding to. It would be more harmful to the community if there was no fire, ambulance or police service to respond.
As for ‘I saw a normal car driving by, and all of sudden the driver putting the lights and siren on and start to drive bit crazy fast’ – I have no idea what your point is.
My thoughts are confirmed. Thank you. What can I do to ecslate this issue with the fact ?
And what are your thoughts? I’ve tried to confirm that your concerns are misplaced. I suppose you could take the issue up with each of the emergency services and the Environmental Protection Agency, but I would hold out no hope that you will get a change. The emergency services have sirens for a reason, and they are required to use them. Arguing that you find it disturbing to hear sirens at 7.45am or 3.40pm sounds over-sensitive and selfish. Would you prefer to let people’s homes burn and their need for urgent care be put on hold for fear of upsetting your sensitivities?
So everyday once or twice in the same surrounding area has fire or emergency service? The day before yesterday was three time in same area.
But what you said is true. If there is an emergency service indeed we should comply with. But seems if anyone take advantage of it we cannot do anything about it.
You don’t need to reply my message.
I don’t need to reply, but I will. Whether, ‘everyday once or twice in the same surrounding area has fire or [call to the] emergency service’ will depend on where you live and how close you live to the nearest ambulance/fire/police station or hospital. If you are hearing sirens once or twice a day then clearly the answer is yes. The emergency services are quite busy and are located where there is demand for their services so unless you think they are using their sirens when not responding to genuine triple zero calls and emergencies then one has to infer that yes your local services are getting called out ‘once or twice a day’. And if that is their call out rate, then it’s a quiet station.
The use of sirens at the times you mention, ‘early mornings and afternoon/evenings’ is appropriate as that is when there is most traffic. If they were being used constantly at 2am then it would be worth contacting the local emergency services to ask if that is really necessary when the Road Rules only require the use of lights OR sirens to enjoy the necessary exemptions and there’s no need for a siren if there’s no-one on the road to hear it. As for hearing sirens once or twice a day, in the early mornings and afternoon/evenings’ then I would agree, there is nothing you can do about it.
Speaking personally, I agree that there needs to be some consideration given to residents, the general public and other drivers when operating an emergency vehicle under lights and siren but the key consideration for the driver of the emergency vehicle is to get his or her crew and vehicle to the scene of the incident as safely as possible.
Early mornings and afternoon / evenings are often times when other road users are thinking about everything except other road users. This being the case they will make very poor decisions and is often the reason why we consider it very important to have all our warning devices activated.
Please note the loud siren can affect couple kms far. If this constantly occur everyday that would affect and harm the local residence life.
And so would not getting an emergency service. What alternative do you want? Quiet sirens that people can’t hear? No emergency response?
Are you sure it’s a vehicle siren twice / thrice a day and not a local school or construction site siren..?!?! Such regular frequency on a daily basis could easily be explained by a static siren.?!?!
A point that was only briefly touched on in the article and subsequent comments, is what a siren can ‘induce’ other road users to do. Anyone who has driven an emergency vehicle under response conditions will have seen all sorts of totally unpredictable and often dangerous behaviours from other road users thinking they are helping.
Turning sirens OFF in heavy traffic and at red lights signals to other road users to remain calm and not do anything stupid. Leaving them on places pressure on those in front to make some kind of manoevre to clear the way, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Neil that is true in some situations, in Vic. Regardless of beacons or sirens, other drivers are required by law to provide clear passage to the police or Em vehicle despite other rules (rsrr).
If the Em Vehicle is stationary or in heavy traffic not using the exemption provisions then you would probably need to turn them off anyways .
I found driving covert Police vehicles I made greater headway with less panic on most occasions. Just exercised defensive techniques and best available signal 😉
Edit: regardless of which signal is used (beacons or siren) …….
Police vehicle is not an emergency vehicle. It is a different classification in most states.
Police who are engaging in a tactic known as a “parallel pursuit” would not use a siren or possibly lights.
Just got home from an almost collision with an ambulance on the highway, lights no siren indicated left pulled towards left then attempted a U-turn right in front of me in a 100km zone.
A concern I have is the overuse of lights for non-urgent parking in the ruse of “safety of members alighting vehicle”. The laws governing safety require a consideration of a hierarchy of controls. Lights are equivalent to PPE. The main issue appears the laziness of members to park away from scene in a safe place and walk to where they wont to “take a reading on a flood board”.This would often illuminate the risk. The general public are being inundated by lights and sirens for often unnecessary reasons.
In some countries, members and volunteer members also, are afforded the privilege of being able to fit Flashing Lights (of the appropriate colours) to their private vehicles.
Whilst this does not afford them any special privileges whilst driving in traffic with the lights operating, it does serve to notify other road users that this vehicle should (because of an official duty) be afforded the courtesy of the road whenever possible (i.e. moving out of its way, giving it extra space).
And whilst it doesn’t have any special authority on the road, other road users can extend Privilege to it.
But, as I have argued elsewhere, having warning lights that have no legal meaning is a seriously bad idea – see