A correspondent tells me that:
Recently, Victorian road legislation was updated to include “incident response vehicles” in the definition of vehicles one must reduce speed when passing. There’s some confusion amongst the tow truck industry, where drivers are thinking this now covers them at incidents on roads. Whilst I agree it should for their safety, I believe this not to be the case.
My understanding is at point.
“(7) For the purposes of this rule—
incident response service vehicle means a vehicle that is operated for the purposes of responding to incidents by or on behalf of the Head, Transport for Victoria in relation to a freeway or arterial road for which the Head, Transport for Victoria is the responsible road authority;
AKA VICROADS Response vehicles.
Nowhere does it say “tollway” City-link or East-link response vehicles, and the reference of “freeway or arterial road” is too narrow a reference to include tow trucks, which operate everywhere.
I’m asked “Can you please clarify?”
This is a blog on emergency law, not road law so I’m going to have make some assumptions here rather than chase every rabbit down its burrow (so to speak).
The relevant provision is in the Road Safety Road Rules 2017 (Vic). They say at r 79A(1) (emphasis added):
A driver approaching a stationary or slow-moving police vehicle, emergency vehicle, enforcement vehicle, escort vehicle or incident response service vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue, red, magenta or yellow light (whether or not it is also displaying other lights) or sounding an alarm must drive at a speed at which the driver can, if necessary, stop safely before passing the vehicle.
There are other provisions about approaching relevant workers from those vehicles, not exceeding 40km/h or otherwise causing danger. As my correspondent has noted, r 79A(7) says:
“incident response service vehicle” means a vehicle that is operated for the purposes of responding to incidents by or on behalf of the Head, Transport for Victoria in relation to a freeway or arterial road for which the Head, Transport for Victoria is the responsible road authority;
That does not describe the type or purpose of the vehicle in question. So it could be a tow truck, a van used to set out warning signs, a motorcycle etc. Any type of vehicle. The critical thing is that its responding to incidents ‘by or on behalf of the Head, Transport for Victoria’ on a ‘freeway or arterial road for which the Head, Transport for Victoria is the responsible road authority’.
So are the tow truck drivers covered? Only if they are responding ‘on behalf of the of the Head, Transport for Victoria’. Now here I cannot delve into the details too much. I assume if I break down on a road and call a tow truck they are not ‘responding ‘on behalf of the of the Head, Transport for Victoria’. But it may be the case that VicRoads monitor their freeways and have contracts in place so that if there is an accident or break down they can call a contracted tow truck operator to go and clear the road. If that’s the case they probably are responding ‘on behalf of the of the Head, Transport for Victoria’ so then they are covered (see also What is a vehicle that is ‘operated by or on behalf of and under the control’ of Ambulance Victoria? (July 21, 2017)).
As for ‘“tollway” City-link or East-link response’ the question is who is the relevant ‘road authority’. The answer to that would depend on the legislation and the contractual arrangements in place. I’m tempted to say that is out of scope, or outside my remit, but given the subject matter of this post I’ll say that exploring those issues is ‘outside my lane’.
New South Wales
Another aid to statutory interpretation is to look at similar legislation in other jurisdictions. If we look at the equivalent rule in NSW (Road Rules 2014 (NSW) r 78-1(6)) refers to an ‘emergency response vehicle’ which includes a vehicle being used by, amongst others, Transport for NSW or the Transport Management Centre as well as ‘a tow truck’ and ‘a motor breakdown service vehicle’. That shows that if the legislature meant a ‘tow truck’ there is a clear way to do that. NSW have done that; Victoria has not, so one can infer Victoria did not mean a tow truck. If they meant that, they could have said that.
The Victorian rule imposes the obligation to slow down when passing a vehicle that is ‘responding to incidents by or on behalf of the Head, Transport for Victoria’. It is not the type of vehicle that is critical but its use. That is of course difficult for Victorian drivers as they cannot know which vehicles the rule applies to. It will be easy to tell if it’s only vehicles marked up as VicRoads vehicles, but not so easy if private contractors are used by Transport for Victoria. Again, I don’t know the procedures adopted by Transport for Victoria so cannot be conclusive about that.
What we can say with certainty is that in most cases the rule does not apply to private tow truck operators or RACV breakdown vehicles.
This blog is made possible with generous financial support from the Australasian College of Paramedicine, the Australian Paramedics Association (NSW), Natural Hazards Research Australia, NSW Rural Fire Service Association and the NSW SES Volunteers Association. I am responsible for the content in this post including any errors or omissions. Any opinions expressed are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or understanding of the donors.