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What are the road rules around emergency vehicles?

5 minute read

Motor vehicle accident

Do you know what to do while driving when you hear the sirens of a police car, an ambulance with flashing lights is approaching behind you, or a fire truck approaches behind you?

Understanding what road rules apply when around emergency vehicles is important. Not only will it increase your own safety, but it will also increase the safety of your fellow road users as well.

So, here’s everything you should know about the road rules around emergency vehicles in Australia.

Emergency vehicle road rules

The main rule when it comes to emergency vehicles in Australia is to get out of the way. So, if an emergency vehicle is coming towards you and is sounding an alarm or showing flashing red or blue lights, you must move out of its path as soon as you can do so safely.

The same rules apply if the emergency vehicle is coming behind you. So, if you see an ambulance approaching behind you, you need to move out of its path as safely as possible.

In order to move safely out of the way of an emergency vehicle, you can take precautions by:

  • Being aware of your surroundings and listening to what is going on around you

  • Slowing down to the required speed in the state in which you are driving

  • Moving as far left on the road as you can to give the emergency vehicle a clear run down the right side of the road. If you can’t move to the left safely, stay where you are and let the emergency vehicle overtake you.

  • If you are already in the left lane, ensure you allow other road users to safely move into your lane if it is safe to do so.

  • Be sure to indicate and signal your intentions to all road users, especially the emergency vehicles.

Most importantly, when giving way to an emergency vehicle, do not break the law. For example, don’t speed to get out of their way.

What if an ambulance has lights but no siren?

If you see an ambulance approaching with its lights on, but no siren sounding, you are required to treat it as if it had both lights and sirens. Give way immediately. An ambulance travelling in this way likely has a stressed patient in the back. The emergency responders will turn the siren off to help the patient feel more comfortable.

What is the speed limit when passing emergency vehicles?

In New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania, road users are required to safely slow down to 40km/h when approaching or passing emergency vehicles. This includes police cars, ambulances and fire trucks that are stationary or moving slowly and have their lights flashing and/or an alarm sounding. Comparatively, in South Australia, they take the law even further as drivers passing stationary police and other emergency vehicles must slow to 25km/h or less.

New South Wales, however, has an exception to this rule. On roads that have a speed limit of 90km/h or more, drivers are required to slow down safely to a speed that is “reasonable for the circumstances”.

It is your responsibility as a driver to be aware of the laws in each state. You will be fined in the state you are driving in if you break their traffic laws.

What if you fail to move over for an emergency vehicle?

While each state will have their own particular statutes, the failure to move over for an emergency vehicle will result in a fine. You’ll also be subjected to a fine if you pass a parked emergency vehicle in an unsafe manner. It’s important to note that police can also fine you without pulling you over.

Preventing accidents involving emergency vehicles

Imagine you are in a vehicle emergency (such as a car accident) and the ambulance can’t get to you or your family because other drivers simply won’t get out of the way? Worse, what if emergency services are involved in their own accident simply trying to answer the call to assist?

Accidents involving emergency services impact not only the people involved in the crash, but also those whom the emergency services were travelling to assist.

To prevent accidents involving police cars, ambulances or fire engines, make sure you do not:

  • move your vehicle in their path suddenly

  • slam on your brakes or stop suddenly if you hear or see an emergency vehicle approaching

  • speed up to follow the emergency vehicle to get a clear run through the traffic

  • slow down or stop to take a look at an accident

  • drive too closely to stationary emergency vehicles which may be positioned close to the road, and make sure you are cautious of emergency personnel who could be in and around their vehicles

  • obstruct the traffic; you don’t want to be the cause of another incident on the road

  • play loud music that inhibits your ability to hear what is going on around you - this also includes using earphones in both ears

  • ignore a flashing light or siren

Knowing the road rules around emergency vehicles will help[JB1] you to act calmly and safely as you get your vehicle safely out of the way and avoid a motor vehicle accident. Thinking before you act could help you to save a stranger’s life.

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