Making a False Emergency Call Laws, Penalties & Defences in Australia

Sahar Adatia.

 

There’s a reason why “emergency services” are called just that – emergency services.

In case it wasn’t obvious, this is because these resources are reserved for, well, emergencies – urgent situations that genuinely require assistance and not simply concerns about mild ailments or flippant hoaxes for that matter.

Nevertheless, when it comes to seeking help from emergency services, it seems there’s a rare breed of people out there who insist on inundating these phone lines with matters that are anything but critical.

Take, for example, a news story not long ago involving a man from the United States who felt it necessary to dial the emergency line simply to inform staff that he was “tired”.

As it turns out, after a series of these time-wasting calls, the man was jailed for the offence.

More recently, it seems the evidence grows that stupidity often reigns when it comes to dialling emergency services.

In this latest episode, a man from Ontario in Canada decided he would call emergency services to seek their assistance because he was stuck in traffic and desperately needed “to pee”.

Here’s how it all unfolded…

Ontario Man Hits Traffic, Bladder Full, With Nowhere to Go…

The bizarre incident took place in October 2021 when a distressed man stuck in traffic dialled 911 for assistance.

Initially, the man requested the services of an ambulance, but then quickly changed his mind and said he actually needed the police.

That is, until his strange admission came along.

“The thing is I have to pee and these guys are not moving,” the man told the operator.

“This is your emergency? That you have to pee?” the operator responded.

“And how are the police going to help you urinate?” they added.

At this point, the man simply repeated to the operator that he needed to urinate.

“I have to pee, man,” the man reiterated.

Which left the operator again scratching their head.

“I’m not sure what you’d like me to do if you have to urinate, I can’t help you with that,” the operator reinforced.

As one may expect, exasperated by the man’s unusual request, the operator then disconnected the call. 

Police Release Audio of Nuisance Call to Remind People About Proper Use of Dialling Emergency Services

In the aftermath of the incident, Peel Regional Police released the audio of the trivial call in an attempt to create community awareness about the proper uses of dialling 911.

Peel Regional Police advised that needing to “use the bathroom and the car ahead of you isn’t moving fast enough” is not a matter for 911, let alone a crisis.

“911 misuse can potentially prevent someone with a life-threatening emergency from getting help on time,” they added.

The audio was also captioned with the hashtag #911Awareness to further circulate the campaign.

Indeed, users of the platform expressed their bewilderment of the man’s idiocy.

“This is ridiculous. He should be charged and fined,” one man commented.

“These people should be fined. Or they will keep doing it,” another user echoed.

The sentiment continued, with another member of the community saying, “They should be fined for misuse of emergency services, plain and simple. There was no language barrier, they spoke clearly, they’re smart enough to get a licence, they should know better! Almost sounds like a prank.”

Making a False Emergency Call Laws, Penalties & Defences in Australia 

In NSW – and in any state or territory across Australia for that matter – it is against the law to improperly use an emergency call service.

Using emergency call services for the futile endeavours not only takes valuable resources such as entire response teams away from where they’re needed, but also wastes time.

Moreover, as a consequence of this, people who genuinely need help are left in danger or hazardous situations because emergency services workers are caught up having to turn up to trivial or false events.

The penalty for improperly using an emergency call service in Australia is a maximum of three years in jail and/or $37,800 fine in the District Court – a sobering price that is designed to capture just how much of a problem the offence is. If the offence is dealt with in the Local Court, the maximum penalty is one year in jail and/or $12,600 fine.

This is outlined in section 474.18 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), which advises that an offence takes place where a person makes a call to an emergency service number and does so with the

intention to induce a false belief than an emergency exists.

Put simply, it is against the law to make a call to an emergency service other than for the purpose of reporting an emergency and the call is vexatious.

So, what determines whether a call by a person to an emergency service number is a vexatious one?

Basically, the court will consider a few factors including:

  • the content of the call
  • the number, frequency and content of previous calls the person has made to emergency service numbers other than for the purpose of reporting emergencies
  • any other matters that are relevant.

While you can argue available defences such as somebody else having made the call, necessity, or duress, but unless these defences apply to you, it is advisable to simply not make the trivial call to begin with and use emergency call services only in, well, as the name suggests – emergencies.

Questions? Get in touch with our criminal lawyers Sydney based for a confidential chat.

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