Driver’s $481 'lesson' after split-second red light mistake

Desperately trying get out of the way of an emergency vehicle, the driver ran a red light. A move that came with an eye-watering penalty.

The white sedan is turning right at an intersection with the right arrow on the traffic light red, with the fire engine visible behind it.
The driver copped a $481 fine and three demerit points for running a red light in an attempt to clear a path for a fire engine in Cheltenham, Melbourne. Source: Reddit

A motorist has been slapped with a $481 fine and three demerit points for driving through a red light seconds after it changed in a desperate attempt to get out of a fire engine’s path, and the rejected appeal notice has sparked fierce debate among Aussies.

On May 5 the white sedan was approaching a highway intersection in Melbourne’s southeast suburb of Cheltenham when the fire engine with “lights and sirens active” sped towards it. In a split-second decision, the driver decided to turn right to move out of the emergency vehicle’s way and was caught by a red light camera overhead.

“I panicked and went through 2.2 seconds late… the second right turning lane was blocked by a stationary vehicle and I was still coming to a stop, they [the fire engine] chose my lane hence the panic and desire to follow the cars through the red,” the driver wrote on social media, explaining they had been driving at 80 km/h before slowing as they approached the traffic lights.

The driver says they have never lost a demerit point in the 19 years they have been driving and decided it was worth challenging the infringement given the circumstances, but the appeal was denied.

“They couldn’t care less so that’s a $481 lesson, sigh,” they said.

After the motorist shared their disappointment online it sparked a debate between drivers, with some Aussies believing it was fair the sedan driver had copped the infringement, with others saying it would be “difficult” to make a split-second decision and they had the right intention.

“While the law makes a lot of sense, I do empathise with [the driver],” one said, admitting they felt the infringement was necessary, despite the situation, as accidents can occur from driving through a red light. “Running a red light is not safe,” another simply wrote.

However, others pushed back saying they would have done the same thing if a fire engine was approaching them from behind with its light and siren on.

“Do emergency vehicles know this? I swear I’ve had them do that behind me before expecting me to move when it’s a red light (which I did),” one said. “One of my best mates got off a ticket for this exact reason. Seems really silly to fine anyone for this,” another wrote. Many others urged the driver to escalate their claim to court.

In Victoria, drivers are required to move out of the way of a police, emergency or enforcement vehicle if its flashing lights or siren are on and fines can apply if drivers don't do this. Authorities expect drivers to get out of the way by stopping, not by speeding off or suddenly changing direction to create space, and fines apply if a red traffic light is disobeyed.

Western Australian drivers are not permitted to run a red light to move out of an emergency vehicle's way, whereas Queenslanders are permitted if it is possible to do so safely.

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