A interesting issue from Victoria relating to the SES but will have application for all emergency services.

I wonder if you could help with a question I have as I have a daughter who has recently joined the SES.

The Victorian State Emergency Service does not allow ‘p’ platers to drive vehicles under emergency status, i.e. under lights and sirens.

My question is, does a probationary driver , driving a State Emergency Vehicle have to display ‘p’ plates,

Our regional manager has stated that a p’ plater does not have to display p plates when driving an emergency vehicle under normal conditions.

They state that a police officer threatened to fine a driver for displaying his ‘p’ plates on an emergency vehicle.

I have asked a Highway Patrol Officer and he tells me that probationary drivers must always display ‘p’ plates regardless of the vehicle they are driving.

What’s interesting is the conflicting advice.  One might expect the police to be right but it appears that is not the case.  The relevant rules are not the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) as those rules do not deal with licensing, in Victoria the relevant rules are the Road Safety (Drivers) Regulations 2009 (Vic) but the answer is in fact clear and set out in regulation 55.

Regulation 55(1) says “A person who holds a probationary driver licence … must not drive a motor vehicle … on a highway unless…” they are displaying a “P” plate to the front and rear of the vehicle (except that a motorcycle only needs a rear facing “P” plate).  The regulation goes on to say:

(3) Subregulation (1) does not apply to a person who is—

(a) a member of the police force who, in the course of duty, is driving a motor vehicle; or

(b) a member of the Country Fire Authority who is driving a motor vehicle in the course of fire fighting operations; or

(c) driving an ambulance service or a Victoria State Emergency Service vehicle in the course of duty.

So the answer is clear, a person driving an SES vehicle as part of their duties does not need to display a “P” plate.  The advice from the SES regional manager is correct; the advice from the Highway Patrol Officer is wrong.

Can you be fined for displaying a “P” plate?  That is not so clear; regulation 55(2) says “A person who does not hold a probationary driver licence …  must not drive a motor vehicle on a highway if there is displayed facing out from the front or rear of the vehicle a plate that is, or that resembles, a P plate”.  The maximum penalty is 3 penalty units.  (A penalty unit is $147.61 (http://www.ocpc.vic.gov.au/CA2572B3001B894B/pages/faqs-penalty-and-fee-units) so the maximum penalty is a fine of $442.83).

BUT the regulation does not say that it is an offence to display a “P” plate when not required to do so by subsection (1); rather it says it is an offence to display a “P” plate if the driver does not hold a probationary licence.  If the driver does hold a probationary licence, and they are driving an SES vehicle or ambulance, or they are a member of the CFA driving a vehicle in the course of firefighting, then they are not required to display a “P” plate but the regulations do not say they commit an offence if they do.  So ‘the police officer [who] threatened to fine a driver for displaying his ‘p’ plates on an emergency vehicle’ was also wrong.

There is another restriction on P1 drivers, that is a P1 driver must not drive a vehicle with more than one ‘peer passenger’ (Regulation 61(1)).  A ‘peer passenger’ is a person aged more than 16 and less than 22 (Regulation 61(4)).  One can imagine that an SES vehicle may have more than one person who meets that criteria.  Again, however the rule does not apply to a member of the police force or a person driving an emergency vehicle in the course of his or her duties (Regulation 61(2)).  That is a different test; regulation 55(3) referred to a person driving an ambulance or SES vehicle in the course of their duties whereas regulation 61(2) refers to an ’emergency vehicle’.  The definition of ’emergency vehicle’ is the same as the definition in the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) (see Road Safety (Drivers) Regulations 2009 (Vic) reg 61(4) and Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) rule 4 and Dictionary).   An ’emergency vehicle’ includes any vehicle that is under the control of the SES (or other emergency services).   Accordingly this exception also applies to the driver of a Victoria SES vehicle.  (That’s quite different to the definition in say New South Wales that defines an emergency vehicle as a vehicle being operated by an emergency worker when responding to an emergency.  If that definition applied in Victoria then a P plate driver could not have more than one young passenger on routine tasks but could in an emergency).

In summary, in Victoria, the holder of a provisional drivers licence does not need to display “P” plates and may carry more than one ‘peer passenger’ when driving an SES vehicle in the course of their SES duties.