Today’s question comes from a paramedic with the Queensland Ambulance Service who says that:
There has been recent increased attention within parts of the organisation paid to speeding infringement notices issued whilst travelling under emergency conditions. In particular we have been reminded that whilst we may have certain exemptions under the conditions of s306 of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management-Road Rules) Regulation 2009, speeding in the range of 40km/h over the applicable speed limit is defined separately in the QLD Criminal Code 1899 (s328a (6)). The suggestion is that if an incident occurs over 40km/h over the limit, or under some other similarly dangerous conditions described in s328a the interpretation of ‘reasonableness’ may be different and an officer in such a predicament would not be able to justify those actions.
Interested in your thoughts on this, as you can imagine such organisation tend not to provide clear legal interpretations or advice on these matters.
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with r 306 of the Australian Road Rules, adopted in Queensland by the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld). Rule 306 says
A provision of this regulation does not apply to the driver of an emergency vehicle if—
(a) in the circumstances—
(i) the driver is taking reasonable care; and
(ii) it is reasonable that the provision should not apply; and
(b) if the vehicle is a motor vehicle that is moving—the vehicle is displaying a red flashing light or sounding an alarm.
A vehicle operated by an officer of the Queensland Ambulance Service is an ‘emergency vehicle’ (see Dictionary of defined terms in Schedule 5).
The critical point is that the exemption in r 306 only applies to ‘A provision of this regulation’. It does not provide an exemption from rules contained in other laws. As my correspondent has noted, another relevant rule is found in the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld). Section 328A of the Code says that ‘A person who operates … a vehicle dangerously … commits a misdemeanour’. In deciding whether or not a vehicle is being operated ‘dangerously’ a court has to consider:
(a) the nature, condition and use of the place; and
(b) the nature and condition of the vehicle; and
(c) the number of persons, vehicles or other objects that are, or might reasonably be expected to be, in the place; and
(d) the concentration of alcohol in the operator’s blood or breath; and
(e) the presence of any other substance in the operator’s body.
Further, if at the time, they are ‘excessively speeding’ then the offence is upgraded to ‘a crime’. ‘Excessively speeding’ means ‘driving or operating a vehicle at a speed more than 40km/h over the speed limit’. Paramedics receive no exemption from this rule.
What follows is that if there is evidence that the operation of the ambulance was ‘dangerous’ and that it was being driven at more than 40km/h over the speed limit, then the paramedic has committed an offence and is liable to a maximum penalty of a fine of 400 penalty units or 5 years, imprisonment. (A Queensland penalty unit is currently worth $121.90 (see Sentencing fines and penalties for offences) so the maximum fine is $48,760). Evidence that the ambulance was involved in a collision would be evidence that the driving was dangerous but it’s not the only way to prove that allegation. Driving at high speed in traffic or a high pedestrian zone would be dangerous even if there is no collision. Rule 306 does not justify driving in an objectively dangerous way (see Further prosecution over fatal RFS accident (August 17, 2016)).
The driver of an emergency vehicle has no exemption from the offence set out in s 328A of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld), with the result that ‘if an incident occurs over 40km/h over the limit, or under some other similarly dangerous conditions described in s328A’ the question of ‘reasonableness’ just won’t arise.
I can’t imagine how it would ever be reasonable to exceed the speed limit by more than 40km/h.