Driver Knowledge Tests

What is the speed limit past an emergency vehicle?

If an emergency vehicle is stationary and has flashing blue or red lights, motorists must slow down to 40km/h if the speed limit of the road is 80km/h or less. On roads with a speed limit of 90km/h or more, motorists must slow down safely to a ‘reasonable’ speed for the circumstances; ‘reasonable’ isn’t defined in absolute terms, but you should consider:

  • the weather
  • how good the visibility is
  • the type of incident
  • how close the emergency vehicles are to the lane
  • whether there is debris on the road
  • how many pedestrians are around
  • how close other vehicles are behind you (in terms of your braking points)

The decision not to bring speeds down to 40km/h on high-speed roads was due to the safety issue of traffic closing from behind at up to 70km/h speed difference on drivers that had braked, creating the potential for serious nose-to-tail crashes, plus the distance required to safely slow down from up to 110km/h to 70km/h

These speed limits also apply past recovery vehicles such as breakdown assistance vehicles (e.g. NRMA vehicles) and tow trucks that are displaying flashing yellow lights, and any people on the road at the emergency site (emergency workers and the public involved in the emergency situation).

Motorists must also provide sufficient space to be safe. This might involve changing lanes on a road with more than one lane in either direction.

Once you are past the incident site and there are no other pedestrians or emergency services vehicles related to it, you can speed up again. Note: this doesn’t necessarily mean immediately past the vehicle as an emergency vehicle could be parked, but emergency workers could be working further up the road.

How does this apply on different types of road?

Single carriageway (one lane in either direction): the rule applies to motorists travelling in both directions

Road separated by a median strip, concrete or wire barrier: the rule applies to motorists only on the side of the road that emergency workers and vehicles are on, unless they are also in the median strip, in which case it applies in both directions.

What are the fines and penalties for not complying?

It’s a rather draconian $457 plus 3 demerit points with a maximum court penalty of $2200.

What about other vehicles with flashing yellow lights?

Motorists should always be prepared to slow down when they see flashing lights. Maintenance vehicles generally have some other signage indicating they are operating, and may already be using speed restrictions.

Where is this rule in effect?

This rule is in effect in some form in New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia and ACT.

If you are travelling overseas, other countries may have similar rules but with different speed limits, e.g. New Zealand’s speed limit past a marked accident site is 20km/h.

Why was the rule introduced?

From 1 September 2018 to 15 February 2019 there were eight crashes involving a parked emergency vehicle, six of which were in a speed zone 80km/h or less.

Despite widespread public opposition (only 7% of public commenters supported it) it was considered to be beneficial to overall safety.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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