Many of us have seen this. A police car stops at a red light and after ten seconds with no cross-traffic, they put their lights on only (no siren) drive across the intersection against the red light, then turns off their lights on the other side and drives slowly away.

I assume that flashing their police lights is to avoid a fine in case they are caught by a red-light camera. Is it legal for police who don't have an urgent police reason to do this?

  • 2
    "to avoid a fine if they are caught by a camera": that's an odd way of putting it. Either the behavior is legal or not, whether it is recorded by a camera or by a witness. Surely, too, the behavior existed before automatic traffic enforcement cameras were developed.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 8:39
  • @phoog A person might see the whole incident. A camera will only take one or two photos and all you'll see is that the car's police lights are on.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 11:41
  • But in fact as the answer shows the use of the lights is one of the facts required for the passage through the red signal to be legal in NSW, yet for some reason you have not upvoted the answer, let alone accepted it.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


This is an excellent explanation.

All Australian jurisdictions have (in general) common road rules. In NSW these are enacted by Road Rules 2014 regulation under the Road Transport Act 2013.

The relevant provision is Clause 306:

306 Exemption for drivers of emergency vehicles

A provision of these Rules does not apply to the driver of an emergency vehicle if:

(a) in the circumstances:

(i) the driver is taking reasonable care, and

(ii) it is reasonable that the rule should not apply, and

(b) if the vehicle is a motor vehicle that is moving-the vehicle is displaying a blue or red flashing light or sounding an alarm.

From your statement (a)(i) and (b) would seem to apply so it becomes a question if (a)(ii) does. Well, you don't know the circumstances so you can't judge if it is reasonable that the rule not apply: if the police car were involved in a collision, caught on a red light camera or booked then the driver would have to show that it was.

It is worth noting that some road offences like drink or dangerous driving are not in the Road Rules, they are in the Crimes Act and so the exemption doesn't apply to them. It is also not a shield from civil liability although the difficulty of proving negligence goes up because disobeying the road rules is no longer enough.

  • What I find fascinating is that "reasonable" is not defined and is completely opinion based. So maybe it's reasonable that the police shouldn't have to wait for the green light and maybe it's reasonable that they wait just like everyone else. It seems only the police in the car can say whether it's reasonable or not, and when questioned after the fact will always say it's reasonable.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 22:25
  • @CJDennis you couldn’t be more wrong - “reasonable” is one of the most rigidly objective terms in the whole legal system - it has nothing to do with the participants’ state of mind.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 22:43
  • What is ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ depends a lot on your perspective January 2014 Chris Wheeler Deputy NSW Ombudsman ombo.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/50006/…
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 23:25
  • @CJDennis Read the document in full - it says "fair" is subjective but "reasonable" is objective.
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 2:38

It is certainly possible that it is justified. Many police departments have a policy of not flashing lights and turning on sirens when not actually necessary to get past other traffic so as to minimize neighborhood disturbance, even when they are permitted to do so.

Also, the rule cited by Dale M "it is reasonable that the rule not apply" is susceptible to varied interpretations.

If it is an abuse of that traffic provision, and it certainly could be, as a practical matter, it will not be enforced, and so there is no point in getting worked up over it.

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