This question comes from a volunteer with St John Ambulance (Vic).  I suspect my correspondent, and other readers, will be surprised by the answer; I know I was.  I am asked:

…  there is always constant debate amongst St John members regarding a few policies such as whether our Vehicles are recognised as Ambulances/Emergency Vehicles, what our legal restrictions are on use of our beacons and sirens (where fitted) and the display of Probationary plates on vehicles as many members are part of other emergency services such as Victoria Police, CFA, Ambulance Victoria and SES and they all have conflicting views on where we stand in the law particularly in regards to our limitations while in a marked vehicle.

Some of the reasons for this confusion could be caused by some of our internal policies stipulating one thing while I have known of people to be pulled over by police and told a different thing (i.e. policy states P plates must be displayed where police have told members to remove them).

Another reason some of us are confused is due to us being able to provide emergency road transport of patients where approval is received from Victoria Police or Ambulance Victoria and our State Duty Officer.

In addition to the above there are many people that believe we are an emergency service due to St John having a role in the State Health Emergency Response Plan (SHERP) and all of our operational instructions include references to such plan.

If you have any better clarification on where St John Ambulance Victoria (Event Health Services not patient transport) stands as an emergency service that would be greatly appreciated. Please know that I’m not asking you for answers to change policy as we will always be stuck by policy but this is more of a general interest question for some of us volunteers.

Let us start with the Road Rules as they apply in Victoria.  As we know from earlier posts the national road rules provide an exemption for emergency vehicles.  Whilst the exemption is consistent across the country, what is not consistent is the definition of an ‘emergency vehicle’.  In Victoria the relevant provisions are contained in the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic).  With respect to ambulance, the dictionary attached to the rules defines ‘emergency vehicle’ as, amongst other things:

(a)     a vehicle operated by or on behalf of and under the control of—

(i)     an ambulance service created by section 23 of the Ambulance Services Act 1986 or listed in Schedule 1 to that Act; or

(ii)     an ambulance service created under a law in force in another State or in a Territory of the Commonwealth that the Minister, by notice in the Government Gazette, declares to be an ambulance service to which this paragraph applies;

(b)     a vehicle operated as an ambulance by the Australian Defence Force;…

St John Ambulance (Vic) is not mentioned in s 23 or schedule 1 so paragraph (a)(i) does not apply nor does paragraph (b).

An ambulance service includes ‘an ambulance service created under a law in force in another State or in a Territory of the Commonwealth that the Minister, by notice in the Government Gazette, declares to be an ambulance service’.  If St John Ambulance (Vic) is in fact established by a Commonwealth law (which it might be given the nature of the Priory) and the Minister has declared that it is an ‘ambulance service’ then it is an ambulance service and gains all the exemptions that brings.  I cannot find any such declaration in the Victorian Government Gazette and the St John website refers to the entity as ‘St John Ambulance Australia (Vic) Inc… a charity that has been providing services to Victorians for 130 years’.   The 2013 annual report says ‘St John Ambulance Australia (VIC) Inc is an independent Incorporated Association’.  Neither the website nor the annual report make any specific mention of the law that establishes St John but I would infer that it is the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012 (Vic).  If that is correct paragraph (a)(ii) also has no application.

The Victorian rules do not have a ‘catch all’ provision that says, words to the effect that an emergency vehicle is also any vehicle approved by the licensing or registration authority as an emergency vehicle.  For example in NSW an emergency vehicle is a vehicle driven by an emergency worker and an emergency worker includes ‘a person (or a person belong to a class of persons) approved by the Authority’ (Road Rules 2014 (NSW) Dictionary, definition of ‘emergency worker’).  That sort of provision allows the Roads and Traffic Authority to approve people as emergency workers who the parliament may not have thought of.    The Victorian legislation, in its definition of ‘emergency vehicle’ grants no such power to VicRoads. In the absence of that general power to extend the definition, it must follow that an ambulance operated by St John is not an emergency vehicle for the purposes of the Victorian road rules.

Does that mean they are not allowed to have red/blue lights and/or sirens fitted? These details are set out in the vehicle standards which form Schedule 2 to the Road Safety (Vehicles) Regulation 2009 (Vic).  An ‘exempt’ vehicle may be fitted with any light or reflector (cl 118(1)).  An ‘exempt vehicle’ includes an ‘emergency vehicle’ but that has the same meaning as in the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic).   ‘A vehicle, other than an exempt vehicle, must not be fitted with any light or reflector not mentioned in the Vehicle Standards without the written approval of the Corporation’.  It follows that beacons may not be installed unless there is written approval from VicRoads and there use will be limited by the terms of that approval.  Sirens are not permitted – Road Safety (Vehicles) Regulation 2009 (Vic) reg 34.

The requirement to display ‘P’ plates is set out in the Road Safety (Drivers) Regulation 2009 (Vic) reg 55.  It says that a ‘person who holds a probationary driver licence … must not drive a motor vehicle … unless— (a)     an appropriate P plate is displayed …’.  That rule does not apply to:

(a) a police officer 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.

‘Ambulance service’ is not defined so could include St John Ambulance (Vic) but I think a better understanding would be that it means an ambulance service ‘created by section 23 of the Ambulance Services Act 1986 or listed in Schedule 1 to that Act’.

Non-emergency patient transport

Victoria has a system in place to licence non-emergency patient transport (NEPT) services (Non-Emergency Patient Transport Act 2003 (Vic)).  ‘St John Ambulance Victoria Patient Transport’ is a licensed NEPT provider (   An NEPT provider may also be licensed to provide ‘stand-by services at public events’ (ss 35-38) but first aid providers do not have to be licensed (see Non-Emergency Patient Transport (NEPT): Stand-by services frequently asked questions).  It follows that Event Health Services do not have to be licensed under the Non-Emergency Patient Transport Act.  Even if they were it would not change the position with respect to the road rules.

Ambulance Services Act 1986 (Vic)

The Ambulance Services Act 1986 (Vic) s 39, does not make it an offence to provide ambulance services (cf Health Services Act 1997 (NSW) s 67E) rather it makes it an offence to allege any affiliation with an ambulance service or to use a name or insignia that could be confused with Victoria Ambulance.  Those offence provisions do not apply to St John (s 39(2). I do note that the Act uses the old titles of the St. John Ambulance Association and the St. John Ambulance Brigade but (without going through all the logic) we can infer that would apply to St John Ambulance (Vic) Event Health Services as the successor to those earlier titles).

One could infer from that exemption that St John Ambulance is to be accepted as an ‘ambulance service’ even though it is not mentioned in section 23 or schedule 1.  That would not help with respect to the road rules however, as an emergency vehicle is not a vehicle operated by an ‘ambulance service’ (which by implication, could include St John Ambulance (Vic), rather it is an ‘ambulance service created by section 23 of the Ambulance Services Act 1986 or listed in Schedule 1 to that Act’ and that is not St John, regardless of what inference may be drawn because of s 39(2).


One’s immediate response is that this must be wrong; if St John are fitting beacons and sirens to their vehicles (and I infer from my correspondent that they are) then they must have lawful authority to do so. Usually that is found in the sort of provision that would give the authority, VicRoads, the power to grant exemptions from the rules either generally or specific cases.  The Regulations (ie the various rules and regulations) could give the corporation the power to grant exemptions from various requirements (Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) s 95(3B)) and there are some exemption provisions (for example the corporation can exempt some people from the need to wear a seat belt – Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) reg 267).  There is a relevant exemption in rule 118 of the Road Safety (Vehicles) Regulation 2009 (Vic) which allows VicRoads to authorise the installation of lights such as beacons but there is no relevant power to extend the definition of ‘emergency vehicle’ in the Rules.

If they’re not fitting beacons and sirens there is no issue, even as a marked St John vehicle it is a vehicle subject to the road rules like any other.  I note that I don’t have access to the ‘internal policy’ documents referred to by my correspondent that might give specific reference to other authority to operate a vehicle as if they were an emergency service.  I would welcome any communication from St John Victoria if that can show that I’ve gone wrong; but in the absence of any reference to a relevant law, my conclusions are:

  1. The driver of a St John vehicle must display P plates (Road Safety (Drivers) Regulation 2009 (Vic) reg 5);
  2. A St John vehicle must not be fitted with a siren (Road Safety (Vehicles) Regulation 2009 (Vic) reg 34);
  3. A St John vehicle must only be fitted with lights set out in the Road Safety (Vehicles) Regulation 2009 (Vic) Part 8—Lights And Reflectors.  It may be fitted with beacons if there is written approval from ‘the Corporation’;
  4. A driver of a St John vehicle enjoys no exemption from the road rules (Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) reg 306); and
  5. A driver commits no offence for failing to give way to a St John vehicle (Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) regs 78 and 79).