Today’s question relates to the use of the word ‘emergency’ on vehicles operated by services other than the traditional emergency services. My correspondent has noticed:
… a number of Private/Business vehicles now being ‘marked up’ with livery that suggests they are an emergency service. Often utilities vehicles are marked with the words ‘Emergency Vehicle’, which is now starting to show up on tradespeoples vehicles.
Attached is a photo of an AAPT Telecoms vehicle fitted with Orange/White LED beacons, and an “Emergency Vehicle” decal applied on the front bonnet.
The notice visible in the windscreen shows logos of NBNCo, Pipe Networks (an AAPT subsidiary) and Telstra, and is a parking exemption notice issued under the Telecommunications Act 1997. The authority notice is linked specifically to that vehicle, under AAPT’s telecommunications licence.
The NSW Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2017, Schedule 2, Part 6, Section 20, allows all ‘Emergency Vehicles’ as well as a significant list of other allowable vehicles (including public utility service vehicles) to fit flashing beacons in any direction. As a result, the beacons are not a question here.
As a fairly regular reader of your work – and having searched back several years in your archive – I’m generally aware of the definitions of an Emergency Vehicle (and by connection, an Emergency Worker). Clearly a telecoms tech is not a Police Officer, nor a member of the other ‘services’, however there is finally the person or class thereof, ‘approved by the Authority’.
[Question 1] Does ‘the Authority’ (I assume NSW RMS in all cases?) make public their determinations of other persons that qualify as emergency workers, or vehicles that are considered emergency vehicles? What criteria might they use to make these determinations?
[Question 2] Detaching the question of telecomms authority from the question for a moment, what is the law regarding marking up a private or business vehicle in NSW to appear as an emergency vehicle, either by way of symbolism (chequers, ‘false’ crests/roundels, etc) or wording such as this?
[Question 3] And finally, does the Telecommunications Act of 1997 confer any Emergency Services worker abilities upon those covered by it? A quick Austlii search suggests not.
To summarise – can one slap an ’emergency vehicle’ decal on a vehicle with no further ramifications? Does that decal hold any power beyond a simple public advertisement as to the theoretical purpose of the vehicle and a bit of a ‘leave me alone’ hand-wave?
For a related discussion, see 4WD Rescue or Recovery (January 7, 2017).
The answer to the first question is yes, the relevant authority for granting permission to fit beacons or to declare that a person is an ‘emergency worker’ is the Roads and Maritime Services and no, they don’t make those determinations public. I can’t say what criteria they would employ when asked to declare that someone is an emergency worker for the purposes of the road rules.
The Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2017 (NSW) sets out standard for issues such as lighting but says nothing about sign painting or otherwise decorating cars or trucks.
The State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW) s 63B says:
(2) A person who:
(a) uses or displays emergency services organisation insignia, or…
with the intention to deceive is guilty of an offence.
(3) A person is not guilty of an offence under this section if: …
(c) the person establishes that the person has a reasonable excuse.
“emergency services organisation insignia” means:
(a) any items (being uniforms, insignia, emblems, logos, devices, accoutrements and other things) that are generally recognised as pertaining to an emergency services organisation (other than the NSW Police Force) or as being used by an emergency services organisation officer, or
(b) any parts of any such items, or
(c) any reasonable imitation of any such items or parts, or
(d) any thing or class of thing prescribed by the regulations as being within this definition (whether or not it may already be within this definition),
but does not include any thing or class of thing prescribed by the regulations as being outside this definition.
Most emergency service vehicles, other than those operated by the State Emergency Service don’t have the word ‘emergency’ on them. I can’t see that a sign that says ‘Emergency Vehicle’ in green writing on a white background would be mistaken for a vehicle operated by one of the traditional emergency services. In any event it’s hard to see it’s been used either with an intention to deceive or without reasonable excuse.
There are however examples of people who do attempt to impersonate emergency vehicles and workers and depending on the jurisdiction is an offence – see Impersonating an emergency service worker in Victoria (October 17, 2017).
The Commonwealth can make laws with respect to ‘postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and other like services’ (Australian Constitution s 51(v)). Where a valid law of the Commonwealth is inconsistent with a valid law of a state, the Commonwealth law prevails (Australian Constitution s 109). The Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) is we can infer a valid law of the Commonwealth. Schedule 3 of that Act grants telecommunications companies ‘… some powers to enter land and install and maintain some types of telecommunications facilities, and some immunities from some state and territory legislation’ (see also Department of Communication and the Arts Carrier powers and immunities, 2018 and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 2018).
Without going into the matter in detail Schedule 3 does allow operators to enter and occupy land to install and maintain facilities (Sch 3, cll 6 and 7). The power to enter land includes a power to enter a public place (Sch 3, cl 2). Without seeing the details of the permit on display I would infer it’s related back to Schedule 3 and would inform parking inspectors and police of the powers vested in the operator by the Telecommunications Act.
The short answer to question 3 is therefore that I haven’t tracked down the detail (and for that I’d need to see the wording of the permit) but in essence yes, the Telecommunications Act does confer a power to do things that would otherwise be illegal, like park on land or a street to maintain the telecommunications network.
Road Rules 2014 (NSW) r 165
This rule says (emphasis added):
It is a defence to the prosecution of a driver for an offence against a provision of this Part [ie Part 12 – Restrictions On Stopping And Parking] if:…
(c) the driver stops at a particular place, or in a particular way, to deal with a[n] medical or other emergency … and the driver stops for no longer than is necessary in the circumstances…
What is an emergency is not defined but one can imagine for example that a plumber stopping water gushing onto the street, or an electrician rendering power to a home safe would be dealing with an emergency as may a telecommunications company have to urgently restore the communications network.
There is no clear and easy statement about when a rule like r 165 applies and that is intentional. These rules are intended to give discretion to law enforcers. The Parliament can’t think of every example, so they give this sort of general exemption and it’s up to police or parking inspectors to decide if it applies. If they don’t issue a ticket they can say to the person also illegally parked who says ‘why don’t you book them too?’ that ‘they’re allowed to park there, you’re not’ and that’s consistent with the rule of law. If they do issue the ticket, the driver has grounds to go before an independent referee (a court) and challenge that decision.
The telecommunications technician is not an emergency worker within the meaning of the Road Rules 2014 so they would have no exemption from the road rules when it comes to driving or ‘responding’ to an emergency.
They may have parking exemptions by virtue of the terms of Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth). And everyone can stop their car contrary to the road rules in order to deal with an emergency.
For the plumber, electrician or telecommunications technician, the ‘Emergency Response’ or ‘Emergency Vehicle’ could well be described as ‘a simple public advertisement as to the theoretical purpose of the vehicle and a bit of a ‘leave me alone’ hand-wave. It may well cause the police or parking inspectors to look and ask, ‘is there an emergency?’ and if there is, let it go. So yes, one can slap an ‘emergency vehicle’ decal on a vehicle and it has no particular meaning or implication and no doubt people do it to advertise their trade services, one sees it on vehicles operated by pathology services and probably people delivering food, alcohol and other urgent supplies.
Postscript: Road Rules 2014 (NSW) r 310
A further correspondent has drawn my attention to r 310 of the Road Rules 2014 (NSW). That rule says:
(1) A provision mentioned in subrule (2) does not apply to a person at the site of, and engaged in, roadworks if, in the circumstances:
(a) it is not practicable for the person to comply with the provision, and
(b) sufficient warning of the roadworks has been given to other road users.
The provisions mentioned in subrule (2) include ‘Part 12 (Restrictions on stopping and parking)’. In simple terms, a person engaged in roadworks where paragraphs (1)(a) and (b) apply does not have to comply with the parking rules.
Roadworks includes ‘installation or maintenance work authorised under another law of this jurisdiction on, above or below a road’.
This (unlike r 165) is not an ‘emergency’ provision but gives further authority to tradespeople to park where they need to in order to complete their work.