Emergency vehicles - are you doing the right thing?

Are you doing the right thing when emergency vehicles are approaching with lights flashing and/or sirens sounding?

In a recent article about funeral processions and how motorists in them have to obey ALL the road rules, several people commented about emergency services having ‘right’ of way.

The trouble is, they don’t. They don’t because there’s no concept of ‘right’ of way in the road rules for Victoria, and this is explicitly written in the notes published with the Road Safety Road Rules 2017 (page 533):

There are a number of rules requiring a driver to give way to another driver or a pedestrian. However, under these Rules the other driver or pedestrian does not have a “right” of way.

But there are specific rules requiring drivers to move out of the way, or not get in the way, of an emergency vehicle.

Rule 78 specifically requires drivers to not move into the path of an approaching police, emergency, enforcement or escort vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue, red or magenta light OR sounding an alarm.

Rule 78 also requires a driver in the path of such a vehicle to move out of the path of the vehicle as soon as the driver can safely do so.

The final part of rule 78 says:

“This rule applies to the driver despite any other rule of these Rules.”

Rule 79 requires a driver to give way to a police, emergency, enforcement or escort vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue, red or magenta light OR sounding an alarm.

The rule has a note to explain that give way means, for that rule:

  • If the driver is stopped—remain stationary until it is safe to proceed;
  • In any other case—slow down and, if necessary, stop to avoid a collision.

The final part of the rule requires the driver to give way despite any other rule that may require the driver of a police, emergency, enforcement or escort vehicle to give way to the driver.

The full road rules are available online.

What does Ambulance Victoria advise?

We spoke to Ambulance Victoria about their expectations of other road users. Trevor Weston, Manager Emergency Co-Responder Programs, explained

“Ambulance Victoria paramedics are bound by the Road Rules and encourage other drivers to abide by them, too.

“Paramedics go through an extensive driver training program and are trained to drive with care and caution when responding with lights and sirens.

“Please help by being aware of your surroundings and if you see or hear an emergency vehicle approaching, move calmly and carefully out of the way.”

Rule 306 enables emergency vehicles to ‘break’ rules if it is reasonable to do so and they’re displaying their flashing lights or sounding their alarm.

A provision of these Rules does not apply to the driver of an emergency vehicle if -
(a) in the circumstances—
(i) the driver is taking reasonable care; and
(ii) it is reasonable that the rule should not apply…

Keep left unless overtaking

Road users may not realise that there are benefits to emergency services arising from Rule 130 too. That rule says that drivers must stay out of the right lane when driving on a multi-lane road with a speed limit of more than 80 km/h or where a ‘Keep Left Unless Overtaking’ sign applies.

A multi-lane road is a road with two or more marked traffic lanes in the same direction.

There are some exceptions, such as when the left lane is congested, or it becomes a left turn lane or special-purpose lane. This video gives more information.

By keeping in the left lane in accordance with the rule, a lane is available for use by emergency services.

What do you do when approaching an emergency vehicle?

From 1 July 2017, a new rule applies that requires road users in Victoria to slow down when passing emergency vehicles. 

What do you do when an emergency vehicle is approaching?

When an emergency vehicle with flashing lights or sounding an alarm is approaching, as soon as it is safe to do so, you should move out of their way.

Getting into the habit of keeping left unless overtaking also has benefits for our emergency services.

Image source: Ambulance Victoria, with permission.

Written by Dave Jones, mobility advocacy manager
February 07, 2018