This question comes from an anonymous correspondent I’m asked:
What can you tell us about Declaring a False Emergency. I have been advised that Police actually declare a “false” emergency when they pull you over using their lights and sirens.
I’ll assume this question comes from Victoria given the recent discussions on the new speed limits in that state. The answer is that whoever has advised my correspondent has no idea what they’re talking about – but I can see the issue. If you think that the new r 79A, that imposes a 40km/h limit, is about ‘emergency’ workers then you might think it doesn’t apply to police who say have pulled someone up for speeding as there is no emergency. For the rule to apply, so one might think, it must be a ‘false’ emergency. But that’s not correct.
First r 79A applies whenever a driver is approaching ‘a stationary or slow-moving police vehicle, emergency vehicle, enforcement vehicle or escort vehicle …’ There is no reference to their being an emergency just a vehicle of those descriptions. Under Victorian law ‘police vehicle’ means ‘means any vehicle driven by a person who is— (a) a police officer; and (b) driving the vehicle in the course of their duties as a police officer…’ again no reference to an emergency.
With respect to exemptions from the road rules, police rely on r 305, not r 306. Rule 306 applies to ‘emergency vehicles’ so even in those states where an emergency vehicle is only an emergency vehicle when it is being used in response to an emergency, that doesn’t apply to police. Police have an exemption from the road rules when it is reasonable in the circumstances and they are taking reasonable care. In some circumstances they don’t even need red/blue lights or a siren (Road Safety Road Rules 2017 (Vic) r 305).
Police have a number of powers to require a driver to pull over. A police officer may give a driver a ‘direction to stop’ by the ‘use of red and blue flashing lights on; or sounding of an alarm, siren or other warning device from— a motor vehicle that is being driven by a police officer in the course of his or her duties as a police officer’ (Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) s 64A(5)). There is no pretence that there is an ‘emergency’.
Police are entitled to use their red/blue lights and sirens in order to communicate to a driver that they are required to stop. Rule 79A applies so that other drivers are required to slow down to 40km/h when passing a stationary police car with red/blue lights activated regardless of whether the police have pulled over to issue a speeding ticket or to take part in a response to a multi-vehicle accident. There is nothing to say that the use of red/blue lights or r 79A is somehow limited to an ‘emergency’. So the premise that ‘Police actually declare a “false” emergency when they pull you over using their lights and sirens’ is wrong.