By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
There are some rules of the road that are so agonisingly obvious that it’s hard to believe they actually need explaining.
Rules, for example, like stopping your vehicle at a stop sign to check for oncoming traffic so as to avoid a collision.
The same goes for crossing a busy intersection at a proper road crossing if you are travelling by foot. That is, of course, unless you have a strange desire to actually get run over.
So, it’s a little perplexing, yet undeniable, that many motorists who journey on roads every day simply don’t know how to respond when they hear or see an emergency vehicle siren while driving.
Tip: Pausing in panic, taking a breather, and/or brake-stomping are not the correct response.
How exactly should you respond then when you hear or see an emergency vehicle siren when driving on NSW roads?
Read on for a guide on how best to respond, the regulations you must follow, and tips to remain calm.
What the Law Says to do When You Hear or See an Emergency Vehicle Siren in NSW
When it comes to emergency service vehicles (that is, Police, Fire Brigade or Ambulance vehicles) ringing sirens and flashing lights, each state and territory is responsible for its own road rules, with slight differences in each regarding motorists’ obligations. Nonetheless, nationally, they are similar and this is reflected under the Australian Road Rules 1999.
In NSW, the law on responding to emergency service vehicle sirens are outlined in rule 78(2) Road Rules 2014 (NSW).
Regulation 78(2) makes clear that if a police or emergency vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue or red light (whether or not it is also displaying other lights) or sounding an alarm is approaching and a driver is in its path, the driver must move out of the path of the vehicle as soon as the driver can do so safely.
As such, by the same token, if a police or emergency vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue or red light (whether or not it is also displaying other lights) or sounding an alarm, a driver must not move in its path. This is reflected in Regulation 78(1).
These aforementioned rules apply to the driver despite any other rule of the Road Rules 2014.
In Summary: Use Logic and Give Way Safely
In summary, the regulations around such a situation are logical: If an emergency service vehicle is moving towards you with its siren sounding or blue and red lights flashing, you must give way, and in a safe manner.
The Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) makes clear that “this means to get out of the way, so the emergency vehicle has a clear passage through traffic”.
So, it may seem obvious, but if, for example, you are facing a green light at an intersection and an emergency vehicle is facing a red, you are required to give way to the emergency vehicle if its siren is ringing and red and blue lights are in use.
The RMS also advises that generally, if you hear a siren or see the flashing lights, you must pull over to the left until the emergency vehicle passes.
If you do not give way to emergency vehicles, you will be liable for an on-the-spot fine. However, this does not mean that you drive through a red light, or speed up to get out of the way. You must still obey the road rules.
Additionally, in the event you are pursued by a police vehicle, you must immediately pull over and stop.
On that, it should also be noted that similar rules apply if you interfere with any vehicle or person that is part of a funeral or procession, or obstruct a procession’s journey.
Ultimately, when you hear or see the siren of an emergency vehicle, responding comes down to common sense: Simply get out of the way as quickly and safely as possible.
For further information or discussion, contact our criminal lawyers who are based in Sydney for a free consultation 24/7 on (02) 8606 2218.
Don’t Be “That” Person: Tips on How Best to Respond When You See or Hear an Emergency Vehicle Siren
Alas, sometimes common sense amongst motorists does not prevail.
Indeed, this likely explains why every time a siren blows on a NSW road, there’s always that one driver who bumbles along in front of the emergency vehicle, seemingly oblivious to the chaos unravelling as they casually decide to dillydally along at 10km/h under the speed limit, forcing the emergency vehicle to swerve and sway in an exasperated effort to get around them.
So, here’s a handy set of tips, as recommended by the NRMA, to guide you on how best to respond should you hear or see the siren of an emergency vehicle so that you can help increase safety levels on the road:
It can be overwhelming when you hear a siren and traffic starts to move aside. Nevertheless, remember to stay calm. Panicking and stopping abruptly in spot that isn’t safe can result in significant threats to the safety of yourself and others on the road.
Gradually slow down your vehicle rather than making sudden movements. Stopping suddenly can cause harm to the emergency vehicle or another motorist on the road.
While it is easy to get distracted by the siren, don’t forget to indicate. It is important to show the emergency vehicle – and other vehicles in proximity – where you are going to ensure safety on the roads.
Do not block roads
Do not block roads as you might block the pathway for an oncoming emergency vehicle.
Be aware of other vehicles
In an emergency situation, it is important to focus and be aware of the vehicles around you. By doing so, you can help to prevent further accidents.
Do not obstruct traffic
Ensure you move your vehicle out of the pathway, safely. This will help to reduce harm to all the road users around you.
Move to the left
Try to move as move as far to the left as possible if it is safe to do so. This will ensure there is room for the emergency vehicle aiming to get past.
Never run a red light
If you are waiting at a red light when you hear a siren behind you, you must not go through a red light. If you do, it can easily put other road users in danger.
Don’t play loud music
It might sound inconsequential; however, you must ensure you are able to hear sounds clearly around you. This is paramount to how quick your reactions are. Playing loud music can obstruct you from hearing a siren in a timely manner.
Never ignore a flashing light or siren
Don’t simply ignore a flashing light or siren. Doing this can hinder the emergency vehicle’s ability to get to their destination as quickly and safely as possible.
The Penalties for Not Moving out of the Path of Police or an Emergency Vehicle in NSW
In NSW, the consequences of not moving out of the path of a police or emergency vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue or red light or sounding an alarm as soon and as safely as possible are dismal.
Rule 78(2) requires a driver to move out of the path (as soon as he/she is able to do so safely) if such driver is in the path of an approaching emergency or police vehicle displaying a blue and red flashlight or sounding an alarm.
Rule 78(1) requires a driver to not move onto the path of such an approaching police or emergency vehicle.
Each of these traffic infringements result in a penalty notice fine of $457 carrying 3 demerit points.
However, as with all penalty notice offences in NSW, if you decide to court-elect it, you’ll be required to appear in court to plead either guilty or not guilty to the charge.
In the event you are found ‘not guilty’ after a hearing, the charge will get dismissed.
In the event you plead guilty, or are found guilty after a hearing, the Magistrate in Court will proceed to sentence. This means, that the Local Court Magistrate is able to impose a maximum penalty of $2,200 for each offence (in addition to incurring the 3 demerit points)
However, in the event you do plead guilty in court from a court-election for this offence- you can avoid the demerit points and fine if the Court decides you sentence you with a non-conviction penalty, which is either a section 10 or Conditional Release Order (CRO).