Poorly advertised new laws in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia now put your life and mine at risk each time we approach an emergency vehicle pulled over on the side of the road.
While a number of switched-on drivers realise they must slow to 40km/h (or 25km/h in South Australia) around stopped or slowly moving emergency vehicles, most don't, which results in a potentially deadly speed differential of up to 85km/h.
The road rules read slightly differently in each state, but the gist in Victoria and New South Wales is that drivers must slow to 40km/h as they approach, as they pass, and for a safe distance afterwards, an emergency vehicle with red or blue flashing lights (in Victoria this includes vehicles with magenta flashing lights or a vehicle with an alarm sounding, while Western Australia includes tow trucks).
In South Australia, drivers must slow down even further, down to 25km/h as they approach, as they pass and for a safe distance afterwards, an emergency vehicle with red and blue flashing lights.
The rules specifically exclude stretches of road with a median strip, but include all other roads even when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped or slowly moving in the opposite direction.
Failure to comply can result in a fine ranging from $272 to $777 in Victoria (no demerit points), $448 and three demerit points in New South Wales, $300 and three demerit points in Western Australia, while in South Australia if you exceed the limit you'll cop a speeding fine for the difference between 25km/h and the speed you were driving.
On stretches of road where the limit is 110km/h, should you fail to comply, the fine could be $1036 with nine demerit points and loss of license for six months!
Police are incredibly serious about this, and so they should be. According to VicRoads, a recent survey of 1600 emergency services personnel found that 17 per cent had a near-miss on four or more occasions, three per cent had been injured when evading a passing vehicle, eight per cent had their vehicle struck by a passing vehicle, while a staggering 23 per cent of those struck had consequential mental health issues.
While the penalties are there to prevent people from breaking the law, the problem is most people don't know about it, which is where the dangerous element of this comes into play.
A recent caller to our motoring segment on 3AW in Melbourne (Thursdays at 2PM on Denis Walter Afternoons) was amazed that people still fail to slow down, with his friends in the car also not realising it was a law until he described it to them.
"The other day, my mates and I were driving to Lorne and there were police on the freeway. I slowed down to 40km/h and my friends asked what I was doing...they hadn't heard anything about the new rule, I only knew about it because I heard it on 3AW," said 3AW caller Trent.
My experience over the Christmas break was the same. In one day alone while driving through country Victoria, I came across three police stops on the side of the road – two in the direction I was travelling and one in the opposite direction.
As I approached the stopped police vehicle I gradually slowed down to 40km/h, only to find literally not one other car around me doing the same. In fact, I had one driver tailgate me the whole way past the incident until I accelerated back up to the 110km/h speed limit, while other vehicles sped past at 100km/h or more.
Image: Nine News Sydney
While near misses like mine are now commonplace, last week in New South Wales a police motorcycle officer was seriously injured during a traffic stop when a vehicle lost control and smashed into his stationary police bike.
It's the same story in Victoria, where one day after the law was introduced, a Toyota sedan was written off when a following truck that failed to slow down while the Toyota was travelling past a stopped police vehicle, which resulted in the truck crashing into the Toyota. The truck driver was subsequently given several infringement notices for failing to obey the law.
While in theory the law makes perfect sense and police should be dishing out fines to offenders, I've encountered several other circumstances where the new law has failed the logic test. In these circumstances police have pulled drivers over on dangerous stretches of road, or shortly after corners. This results in some traffic slowing to 40km/h, some remaining at highway speeds and some having to brake heavily as others realise traffic has slowed.
This road rule is one that has the potential to not only seriously injure or kill an emergency services worker, but it has just as high a chance of killing you or I if we obey the rule. The lack of advertising and lack of consistency with where emergency services vehicles are stopped means a deadly crash with a huge speed differential is waiting to happen.
Image: Nine News Sydney
My advice to you – before you slow down, check your surroundings. While the emergency services vehicle may be painfully obvious to you, consider the bozo driver behind you on their phone, or the truck driver who needs a greater distance to slow down.
It's also worth using your hazard lights to indicate to other drivers that you are slowing down – it's commonplace in countries with more advanced driving training than Australia.
And most of all, pray that if you don't slow down because it's not safe to do so, that the police officer who pulls you over has enough intelligence to use discretion.
The road rule has been in place in Victoria since 1 July 2017 and South Australia since 1 September 2014 while it is currently being trialled in New South Wales until 31 August 2019.
Have you experienced this situation? Did many drivers slow down around you? What should the government be doing about this rule and making it more obvious to drivers?