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What are the road rules around emergency vehicles?

8 minute read

Motor vehicle accident

Do you know how to react while driving when you hear the sirens of a police car, fire engine or ambulance? Understanding what road rules apply when around emergency vehicles will not only increase your own safety, but the safety of your fellow road users.

We explain below what you should know about the road rules around emergency vehicles.

Emergency vehicle road rules

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.

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 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, speeding to get out of their way.

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, including police cars, that are stationary or moving slowly, and have their lights flashing and/or an alarm sounding.

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”. 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.

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

Preventing accidents involving emergency vehicles

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 suddenly and without thinking

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

  • drive into the path of the emergency vehicle

  • 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 you to act calmly and safely as you get your vehicle safely out of the way. Thinking before you act could help you to save a stranger’s life.

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