Slow down, keep responders safe

By Patrick Tansey

Drivers in NSW must now slow down to 40km/h around stopped emergency vehicles thanks to a new road rule that came into effect on September 1.

It is essentially the same rule that was introduced in Victoria on July 1 and has been designed to improve safety for emergency and enforcement workers.

The rule states that drivers must slow down to a speed that would enable them to stop safely when approaching and passing enforcement, emergency or escort vehicles that are stationary or moving slowly (less than 10km/h) and have either red and blue flashing lights, magenta (purple) flashing lights or an alarm sounding.

While the new law has been met with safety concerns by some drivers, Cobram Highway Patrol Acting Sergeant Bill Dockery believes it is a wise move to now have the rule in both NSW and Victoria.

‘‘We understand some people have concerns, but they need to trust that this rule will make it much safer for emergency responders and enforcement vehicles at the scene of an accident,’’ Sgt Dockery said.

He said the rule would work well as long as drivers remained aware of safety cues once they saw flashing lights.

‘‘The point of the law is to make sure everyone is safe and the reason the passing speed is 40km/h is because that’s the fastest possible speed a human body can survive a collision with a vehicle,’’ he said.

Sgt Dockery said the rule made logical sense, adding that police witnessed near misses ‘‘all the time’’ when it came to drivers nearly hitting emergency workers.

‘‘Seventeen per cent of police across Victoria have said they have been involved in a near-miss, according to a recent survey,’’ he said.

‘‘Several police officers have been killed in the past 10 to 15 years after being struck by a car at the scene of an emergency, so it does happen and people need to be aware of that.’’

While new legislation has been introduced, it may be difficult for police to enforce because their first priority will be to tend to the initial subject.

This means police are asking for full co-operation from members of the public.

‘‘We are really trying to encourage everyone to really buy in and we will be relying on the goodwill of the community,’’ Sgt Dockery said.

He believes it will only be a matter of time before the law is enforced nationwide because it speaks to ‘‘common sense’’.