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Do you know how fast to pass a parked emergency vehicle?

Up ahead on the highway you can see a police car has pulled over another vehicle (or it could be an accident). The police car has its red and blue lights flashing. The speed limit is currently 110 kph. What speed do you legally need to be travelling at as you pass this incident?

Well, its a little confusing. Actually….big confusing.

Common sense dictates that slowing down and moving over to give emergency responders safe working space would be both sensible and prudent.

However, some states/territories do not currently require you to slow down at all unless specifically signposted. And depending on where you are there are different speed limits you must observe… and there are different laws as to exactly which emergency vehicles require you to slow down ( for example, some states include yellow or amber flashing lights such as tow trucks and breakdown vehicles whilst other states do not).

This seems crazy to me. Why can’t we simply have one universal set of laws covering all of Australia? I spent the morning trying to figure it all out. Because if you are travelling interstate, you could find yourself hit with an expensive fine or worse.

Take particular note of South Australia.

I recently read the story of an unsuspecting motorhome driver traveling through SA who passing an emergency vehicle found out the hard way:

[The woman], on their way to Adelaide, drove past two police cars parked well off the side of the road (approximately 12m) with their lights flashing. They appeared to be talking to a motorist. The member states that she was driving approximately 85km/h at the time (the speed limit was 110km/h). She continued driving and not long after she saw lights of a police car flashing behind her, requesting her to pull over – which she did.

The police officer asked her speed, which she said was about 85km/h. He said she had been travelling at 83km/h and asked her if she was aware that the speed limit when driving by an emergency vehicle flashing their lights is 25km/h in South Australia?

She was not aware of this. She tried to explain her case, but to no avail she was issued with an infringement notice – $1007 fine and an immediate 6 month driving disqualification.

As a single traveller with a 49 year unblemished driving record, she was dumbfounded and confused with what had just happened. She comes from northern NSW and was intending to visit friends in Adelaide and now needs to find a place to store her campervan and organise travel back home.

CMCA Facebook page.

OK then. Let’s take a look at the laws state by state:

Australian Capital Territory:

Passing Speed: 40 kph
Includes:Red or blue flashing lights.
NOT yellow flashing lights.
If parked on opposite side of road?Yes.
No if separated by median strip.
Other stuff:
Fine:$257 and two demerit points.
Reference:ACT police.

South Australia:

Passing Speed: 25 kph
Includes:Red or blue flashing lights.
If parked on opposite side of road?Yes.
No if separated by median strip.
Other stuff:
Fine:$257 and two demerit points.
Reference:SA government

New South Wales:

Passing Speed: 40 kph if speed limit = 80 kph or less.
Reasonable Speed” if speed limit = 90 kph or more.
Includes:Red, blue or orange flashing lights.
If parked on opposite side of road?Yes.
No if separated by median strip.
Other stuff:Known as Sarah’s Rule in memory of Sarah Frazer who was killed on the Hume Highway in 2012.
Fine:$457 and and 3 demerit points. (plus maximum court fine = $2,200)
Reference:NSW governement

Western Australia:

Passing Speed: 40 kph
Includes:Red, blue or orange flashing lights.
If parked on opposite side of road?No.
Other stuff:If incident has occured ON median strip, both directions of traffic must slow down.
Fine:$300 and and 3 demerit points.
Reference:WA road safety commission

Queensland:

Passing Speed: Posted speed limit.
Includes:N/A
If parked on opposite side of road?N/A
Other stuff:Comon sense dictates that slowing down in these situations is prudent anyway.
Fine:N/A
Reference:Queensland Government.

Northern Territory:

Passing Speed: Posted speed limit.
Includes:N/A
If parked on opposite side of road?N/A
Other stuff:Comon sense dictates that slowing down in these situations is prudent anyway.
Fine:N/A
Reference:NT government.

Tasmania:

Passing Speed: 40 kph.
Includes:Red blue or magenta lights or alarm sounding.
NOT yellow flashing lights.
If parked on opposite side of road?Yes unless dividing barrier between you and emergency vehicle.
Other stuff:
Fine:Yes. Amount unclear.
Reference:RSAC Tasmania

Note: Red, blue or orange flashing lights generally includes all emergency vehicles attending the roadside incident. eg Police, Fire, Ambulance, Tow trucks, SES vehicles.

Note: Double white lines are not considered median strips/barriers.

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