Today’s correspondent asks

Are ambulances in WA allowed to use bus lanes when responding to calls other than priority 1 (lights and sirens)? I suppose at the heart of the matter would be whether a priority 2 or 3 call with a response time target of 25 minutes and 60 minutes respectively, would be considered ‘urgent call’ under the Road Traffic Code 2000?

The relevant law is indeed found in the Road Traffic Code 2000 (WA).  Regulation 133 says:

A person shall not drive a vehicle along or into a bus lane unless —

(a) the vehicle is a public bus, an emergency vehicle or a special purpose vehicle; or

(b) the driver is permitted to do so under regulation 136.

Regulation 136 is about entering a bus lane in order to avoid an obstruction, a vehicle turning right, to exit the road etc and is not relevant to this discussion.

As with so many of the road rules the issue becomes ‘when is an ambulance an emergency vehicle?’  In WA an emergency vehicle includes ‘an ambulance, answering an urgent call or conveying any injured or sick person to any place for the provision of urgent treatment’ (r 3).

To enjoy the benefit of r 281 (the exemption of emergency vehicles from the road rules and generally r 306 in other jurisdictions) an ambulance must be responding to an ‘urgent call’ and must also be displaying ‘a blue or red flashing light or sounding an alarm’.  The requirement to display the warning lights or use the siren is not part of r 133.

My correspondent is, therefore, entirely correct, it depends ‘whether a priority 2 or 3 call with a response time target of 25 minutes and 60 minutes respectively, would be considered [an] ‘urgent call’…’

Who decides?  The first person to make that decision will be either the coordination centre that will identify the case as ‘urgent’, or the treating paramedic.  If they think it’s urgent the next person to be involved will be police – a police officer who issues the traffic infringement notice (TIN) will have to consider if he or she agrees the case was urgent (assuming that there is an officer who talks to the driver and the TIN isn’t just sent in the mail due to some form of automatic detection).    If a ticket is received (either handed to the driver by a police officer or sent in the mail) then the paramedic/driver could exercise their right to make submissions to police or the relevant authority where a review officer would have to consider whether, in his or her view, they accept the service’s, or the paramedic’s assessment, that the case was urgent.   If they reject that argument then the paramedic/driver could put the matter before a court for a magistrate to determine.  If the magistrate did not accept the argument there could be appeals, theoretically (but unlikely) all the way to the High Court!

One class of vehicles that can use a bus lane is a ‘special purpose vehicle’.   The definition of special purpose vehicle (r 3) includes ‘a vehicle duly authorised as a special purpose vehicle for the purposes of these regulations, by the CEO’.  If the CEO of the relevant department has, say, declared that an ambulance operated by St John Ambulance (WA) is a ‘special purpose vehicle’ then they could use a bus lane.