Unpopular new road rule dramatically scaled back

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·News Reporter
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  • Andrew Constance
    New South Wales politician

The NSW government has announced it will make significant changes to its ‘slow down to 40’ rule for motorists passing emergency vehicles after a 12-month trial prompted concern from drivers.

During the trial motorists were forced to slow down to 40km/h in any speed limit when passing stationary emergency vehicles displaying flashing blue or red lights.

“Community feedback regarding the rule in its current form was generally negative,” Transport for NSW said.

According to the findings from their trial, drivers noted that slowing to 40km/h was difficult to achieve and in many incidents “created additional risks”.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Minister said 926 infringements were issued during the 12-month trial for motorists breaching the rule.

While the rule hasn’t been scrapped altogether it has been cut back significantly and now includes tow trucks and breakdown assistance vehicles displaying flashing yellow lights.

A Highway Patrol vehicle pulls over a car on a highway. Source: Traffic and Highway Patrol Command
A Highway Patrol vehicle pulls over a car on a highway. Source: Traffic and Highway Patrol Command

“We’ve monitored the impact of the rule over the past year and taken on board feedback from the public and stakeholders about the trial. We’re now implementing changes to make the rule safer for everyone,” Mr Constance said.

Vehicles must now only adhere to the rule in a 80 zone or lower.

If on a road where the speed limit is 90 or higher, motorists must slow down to a speed “reasonable for the circumstances”.

Motorists must give as much space to emergency vehicles as possible when passing and should change lanes where possible to keep the lane next to the vehicle free.

Around 85 per cent of crashes between 2014 and 2018 where emergency service vehicles were stopped at the roadside happened in 80km/h speed zones and below, Transport for NSW noted.

NSW Police say their patrol cars are now making a conscious effort to stop in safer locations on the roadside.

Drivers must still obey the 40km/h rule if in a zone 80 or lower. Source: Traffic and Highway Patrol Command
Drivers must still obey the 40km/h rule if in a zone 80 or lower. Source: Traffic and Highway Patrol Command

If motorists are found to breach the amended rules, they will be fined $457 and receive three demerit points.

The changes will come into effect on September 26.

Police union backs amendments

Tony King, president of the Police Association of New South Wales, told Yahoo News Australia there was clear evidence amendments were needed.

“Through the trial it has been made abundantly clear that people need to apply more common sense when they are passing stationary emergency vehicles, and the Police Association welcomes the expansion in the setting of new rules to include tow trucks and breakdown assistance trucks,” he said.

“Any flashing lights – blue, red or yellow – should be an obvious cue for drivers to slow down to safe and reasonable speeds that don’t put our members who are attending roadside incidents at risk.

“This should apply to all drivers, and the message that drivers should always ‘drive to the conditions’ as part of their road safety plan should be twice as important when they see flashing lights”.

When NSW Road Safety announced the rule amendments on Facebook, drivers expressed their delight over the changes.

“Thank god! The amount of times Ive nearly been rear ended or have been tailgated on the freeway for obeying the law is frightening!,” one person declared.

“Great news. Having someone hard on the brakes in front and a semi-trailer desperately trying to pull up behind is terrifying,” another said.

Motorists in WA, Victoria and Queensland must pass stationary emergency vehicles at 40km/h in all zones while in SA drivers must drop to 25km/h.

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