This question comes from a Victorian paramedic

Relating to the use of Patient restraints/Seatbelts (for Safety purposes, not relating to Mental health issues….), is there an obligation for Paramedics to insist on the use of Seatbelts by a Patient being Transported? Is there an onus on the Driver, if a Patient or Child is not appropriately restrained? It is my understanding that the driver of a vehicle is liable for the seatbelt wearing (or lack thereof) of ANY passenger (regardless of age) unless the vehicle is a bus with more than 12 seats. Whilst my employer has a policy to utilise the provided seatbelts as fitted to the Ambulance Stretcher (or the approved Paediatric Harness that can be fitted), this is not The Law. There is a seeming reluctance to utilise the approved harness’ (both adult and paediatric), but as I understand it, there is no specific exemption applying to Ambulance Services (and specifically Paramedics) from the requirement to wear Seatbelt.

Would there be a liability for the driver if a Passenger (Colleague) or patient were not restrained?

The general rule is, of course, that everyone has to wear a seat belt or, in the case of small children, in a child restraint. Where the passenger is 16 or older, the obligation is on both the passenger and the driver; if the passenger is under 16, the obligation is upon the driver (Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) rr 265 and 266).

There are, however, many exemptions to these rules, for example it is no offence not to wear a seat belt if the car is, lawfully, not fitted with a seatbelt (r 267(1A)). For the purposes of the emergency services, rules 267(5) and (6) says:

(5) A person is exempt from wearing a seatbelt if—
(a) the person is a passenger in or on a police vehicle, emergency vehicle or enforcement vehicle; and
(b) either—
(i) if the vehicle has 2 or more rows of seats —the person is not in the front row of seats or there is not a seating position available for the person in another row of seats; or
(ii) if the vehicle is a police vehicle and has a caged, or other secured, area designed for the carriage of passengers—the person occupies a seating position in that area.
(6) A person is exempt from wearing a seatbelt if he or she is providing or receiving medical treatment of an urgent and necessary nature while in or on a vehicle.

“Emergency vehicle” includes an ambulance.

It follows that a passenger in the front passenger seat of an ambulance (eg the relative of the patient) would be expected to wear a seatbelt if we assume that they could be sitting in the back. If the front seat is the only seat available they wouldn’t need to wear a seatbelt but of course it would be prudent to require them to do so.

As for the patient, then they are exempt if they are ‘receiving medical treatment of an urgent and necessary nature’, as is the treating paramedics. I don’t imagine any court or police officer would quibble with the suggestion that a person being transported on an ambulance stretcher meets this requirement even if the reality is that their treatment is not ‘urgent’. The mere fact that their condition is such that they are being transported in an ambulance would I’m sure be sufficient.

That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t wear a seatbelt, only that there is no offence committed if the seat belt is not worn. In the event of an accident a person would seek compensation under the Accident Compensation Act 1985 (Vic). A claim for compensation can be reduced due to contributory negligent (Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) s 26). If a person has available to them a seat belt that they chose not to wear, that may reduce any claim for compensation, in fact in New South Wales fail to wear a seat belt, contrary to the regulations, is specifically considered contributory negligence (Motor Accidents Act 1988 (NSW) s 74(2)(c)). If the regulations do not require the seat belt to be worn (as discussed above) then the automatic deduction won’t apply but that does not mean a court could not find that a person did contribute to their injuries if they didn’t wear an available seat belt and there was no good reason not to.

1. It is true that the driver is required to ensure that all passengers who are required to wear a seat belt are wearing a seat belt. If the passenger is aged 16 or over, the passenger also commits an offence if they don’t wear a seat belt.

2. There is in fact specific exemptions applying to Ambulance Services regarding the requirement to wear Seatbelt. A passenger need not wear a seat belt in an ambulance provided they are not in the front passenger seat unless there are no other seats available. Both the patient, and the paramedic providing ‘urgent and necessary’ medical are not required to wear a seat belt.