The 40km/h emergency service speed restriction came into operation in the Australian Capital Territory today, Saturday 14 April.

The process of introducing the new rule

The new rule was introduced by the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Amendment Regulation 2018 (No 1) (ACT).  That Regulation inserted a new r 59 into the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Regulation 2000 (ACT).  (The Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Regulation 2000 (ACT) is due to be repealed on 30 April 2018.  The rule requiring drives to slow down when approaching or passing an emergency service vehicle will then appear as r 300C in the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Regulation 2017 (ACT))

The rule itself

The Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Regulation 2000 (ACT) s 59 says:

Approaching and passing stationary or slow moving emergency vehicle etc

(1) This section applies if a police vehicle or an emergency vehicle is—

(a) on a road; and

(b) stationary or moving slowly; and

(c) displaying flashing red or blue lights (whether or not it is also displaying other lights or sounding an alarm).

(2) A driver of a vehicle on the road must—

(a) approach the police vehicle or emergency vehicle at a speed at which the driver can, if necessary, stop safely before reaching the vehicle; and

(b) give way to any police officer or emergency worker on foot near the police vehicle or emergency vehicle; and

(c) pass the police vehicle or emergency vehicle at a speed of not more than—

(i) 40km/h; or

(ii) if the applicable speed limit at the point the driver passes the police vehicle or emergency vehicle is less than 40km/h—the speed limit; and

(d) after passing the police vehicle or emergency vehicle, drive at a speed at which the driver can, if necessary, stop safely, until the driver is a sufficient distance past the vehicle that the increase in speed does not risk the safety of any police officer or emergency worker on foot near the vehicle.

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units.

(3) Subsection (2) does not apply if the driver is driving on a road that is divided by a median strip and the police vehicle or emergency vehicle is on the other side of the road and beyond the median strip.

What is ‘a police vehicle or an emergency vehicle’?

The Dictionary attached to the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management)

Regulation 2000 (ACT) defines a police vehicle as:

…  any vehicle driven by a person who is—

 (a) a police officer; and

 (b) driving the vehicle in the course of his or her duties as a police officer.

A police officer is ‘a member or special member of the Australian Federal Police’ (Legislation Act 2001 (ACT) s 144 and Dictionary, Part 1).

An emergency vehicle is:

… any vehicle driven by a person who is—

(a) an emergency worker; and

(b) driving the vehicle in the course of his or her duties as an emergency worker.

An ‘emergency worker’ is”

(a) a member of the ambulance service rendering or providing transport for sick or injured people; or

(b) a member of the ambulance service, the fire and rescue service, the rural fire service or the SES providing transport in an emergency; or

(c) a person who is declared by the road transport authority under section 66 (1) (g) (Approvals etc by road transport authority) to be an emergency worker.

We can, without tracing all the possible permutations and variations, conclude that the vehicles that are ‘police and emergency vehicles’ for the purposes of the ACT rule are those vehicles operated by the Australian Federal Police, ACT Ambulance, ACT Fire and Rescue, ACT Rural Fire Service or ACT State Emergency Service (see also (Legislation Act 2001 (ACT) s 144 and Dictionary, Part 1).

That means the rule does not apply if the only vehicle on scene is a vehicle from a visiting emergency service eg NSW RFS but that is likely to be irrelevant. A person approaching a scene with emergency service vehicles is unlikely to be able to identify which service they are from so a prudent driver will slow down as if the rule applies.  And there need only be one ACT vehicle (with its blue and red lights on) in a sea of interstate vehicles and the rule does indeed apply.

How can a ‘driver of a vehicle on the road … approach the police vehicle or emergency vehicle at a speed at which the driver can, if necessary, stop safely before reaching the vehicle’ yet still pass the vehicle?

This section is akin to r 79A(1) of the Road Safety Road Rules 2017 (Vic) and s 137A(2) of the Road Traffic Code 2000 (WA).  If you are more than 26m from the emergency vehicle, you can travel at 40km/h and stop in that distance (see Queensland Transport, https://www.qld.gov.au/transport/safety/road-safety/driving-safely/stopping-distances/graph/index.html).

As you get closer, you must be travelling slower to be able to ‘if necessary, stop safely before reaching the vehicle’. When you get to 1/2m from the vehicle you have to be stopped because no speed will allow you stop safely before reaching the vehicle. These sections are therefore meaningless other than if a driver does have an accident when passing a police or emergency vehicle then that would be evidence that they were not travelling at a safe speed and could be charged with this offence. In effect it creates a strict liability offence where you can be guilty regardless of what happened or how the accident occurred.  It is not clear if that was what was intended, in fact it is not clear what is intended by this subsection at all.

Rules 2(b) and (c) don’t appear problematic save that if you comply with 2(a) you can’t pass the emergency or police vehicle at all.

A comparative table

A correspondent suggested that what was required was a matrix explaining the different rules and penalties in each jurisdiction. I have created that matrix and you can access it here – speed limits matrix