Is it legal to break the speed limit in an emergency?

If you’re in a situation where you need to get to the hospital as fast as possible, and the only option is driving, then ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

No doubt about it, finding yourself in an emergency situation, particularly involving a family member or loved one, can be one of the most stressful scenarios you can face.

If emergency medical assistance is unavailable, and the best-presented option is for you to drive the patient to a hospital yourself, is it ok to break the law in doing so?

Regardless of what state you live in, the answer is no. You are expected to call an ambulance.

However, this is not always practical and given the heightened stress of an emergency, may not seem like a reasonable option at the time. Most of us would agree that receiving a fine or even losing your licence is insignificant compared to the well-being of a loved one.

If you do take it upon yourself to get someone to medical aid as fast as possible, do try to be as level-headed as you can. You don’t want to put them, yourself or other road users at risk in the process.

Before you do anything, consider the weather, time of day and traffic conditions before you do anything. Should you be moving the patient at all?

While the medical advice and road rules in this scenario are clear, Drive spoke to a lawyer to understand what would be the outcome of your decision to rush someone to hospital and be stopped or photographed for speeding in the process.

Bottom line, if you are caught breaking the speed limit in an emergency, and wish to fight the charge, you’ll need to go to court, plead ‘not guilty’ and present your case to a magistrate.

You may have a defence if you had to speed because of an emergency, for example, if someone was critically ill in the car. The magistrate will decide if your reason is good enough. 

If you break the speed limit in an emergency, document everything as soon as possible

Once you have arrived at the hospital, and the patient is receiving care, note the time, the route you took and anything else pertinent to the journey, including weather and traffic conditions.

You’ll also need to keep all the records of admission and treatment from the hospital, including:

  • The name and address of the doctor who administered treatment;
  • The nature of the illness;
  • The date and time treatment was administered; and
  • The circumstances that support the sudden or extraordinary emergency.

Risk assessment will form much of the magistrate’s approach to your case.

If you break the speed limit in an emergency and police attempt to pull you over, stop.

If you encounter a police car on the way to the hospital and they attempt to pull you over, stop the vehicle immediately. The extra few seconds will de-escalate the situation and may even help your patient.

Police officers are all trained in first responder first-aid and will be carrying basic medical supplies. If you quickly explain the situation the attending officers may be able to help your patient on-site, transfer them to the police car for safer transportation to a hospital or in extreme cases even provide an escort for your car.

If you continue to drive while the police are in pursuit, they may not understand the medical nature of the situation and may treat you as a reckless or criminal driver. This will be judged negatively by the magistrate.

Driving recklessly in an emergency is the worst decision you can make.

While we are focussing on speeding over the limit in an emergency, it’s worth noting that driving in a manner that is deemed to be reckless will not sit favourably with a magistrate.

Life is not a Hollywood car chase, so weaving dangerously through traffic, or crossing onto the oncoming lane is not going to help your patient. Any behaviour that puts you or other road users at risk will be negatively judged and will not help your defence.

If you find yourself in a situation where driving a patient to the hospital is the most immediate and urgent care you can provide, try to keep calm and make good decisions.

Speeding, even in an emergency, is against the law but if your actions can save someone’s life then the law has a provision to understand.

Note: this article provides commentary only and is not intended as legal advice

The post Is it legal to break the speed limit in an emergency? appeared first on Drive.

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