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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Stationary Emergency Vehicles (NSW)


In NSW, motorists must slow when passing emergency vehicles that have red or blue flashing lights, or breakdown response vehicles that have flashing yellow lights. The rule is designed to protect emergency services staff, tow truck operators and other breakdown helpers working on the road, as well as those people they are helping.

Legislation

The rule is contained in Regulation 78-1 of the Road Rules 2014, “Approaching or Passing Stationary Emergency Response Vehicles”.

The rule was introduced after a 12-month trial between September 2018 and September 2019, conducted by the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety. A similar rule exists in other states and territories, including Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT.

In announcing the rule, Transport for NSW stated that in the 5 years to 2018, 85% of crashes involving stationary emergency vehicles on the roadside occurred on roads with an 80km/h or lower speed limit.

The rule is also called “Sarah’s Rule” after Sarah Frazer, who was killed along with NRMA contractor Geoff Clark when they were struck on the roadside on the Hume Highway in 2012. Ms Frazer’s car had broken down and tow truck driver Mr Clark had responded to her call to the NRMA. The breakdown lane had not been built to the 3-metre Australian standard, and while Mr Clark was loading the vehicle, a passing truck hit the vehicle, killing the pair instantly.

How does the rule work?

Where the speed limit is 80km/h or lower, the vehicle must slow to 40km/h. On roads where the speed limit is 80km/h or higher, where there is greater time and distance required to slow, a driver must slow safely to a speed that is reasonable in all the circumstances.

As well as slowing, the driver must move over to provide as much space as possible between their car and the scene of the emergency. On a multi-lane road, this means drivers must stay out of the lane next to the stationary emergency vehicle, tow truck or other breakdown service vehicle, unless it is unsafe to do so.

Speed may be increased only once the vehicle has passed all people and vehicles involved in the emergency scene and there is no danger posed to them. If a fire truck is parked with its lights flashing but is dealing with a fire on the road some distance from the truck, the driver must not accelerate until the vehicle has passed all firefighters.

Vehicles displaying red or blue flashing lights include police, ambulance, Fire and Rescue, Rural Fire Service, State Emergency Service, Volunteer Rescue Association, Traffic Emergency Patrol, or Traffic Commander vehicles. Vehicles displaying yellow flashing lights are breakdown response vehicles, either tow trucks and roadside assistance vehicles.

When does the rule not apply?

The rule does not apply to vehicles that have yellow flashing lights but which are not tow trucks or breakdown response vehicles. However, flashing yellow lights alert other road users that a vehicle is in, or is moving into, a hazardous position, so drivers should always slow when approaching a vehicle that has flashing yellow lights.

The rule does not apply when a stationary emergency vehicle, tow truck or other breakdown service vehicle displaying flashing lights is on the opposite side of a divided road separated by a median strip.

What is a reasonable speed reduction from 90km/h?

A motorist must slow to a reasonable speed in the circumstances. Speed should be reduced further if:

  • there is a clear line of sight to the stationary vehicle displaying flashing lights;
  • the stationary vehicles is close to moving traffic and there is limited space;
  • there are pedestrians on the road at the emergency scene;
  • the driver can slow further in a controlled way with regard to other traffic.

What is the penalty?

A motorist who does not comply with the rule faces a $464 fine and 3 demerit points. If the matter goes to court, a maximum fine of 20 penalty units ($2200) applies.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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