This question comes from a volunteer with St John (NSW).

I have a question for you. Everyone I ask seems to provide a different answer.

Current NSW has red lights and sirens on their vehicles.

Is St John entitled to have lights and sirens independently? If the answer to the previous question is yes, are we then entitled to move to red and blue lights?

Some believe our authority comes from Ambulance. And we always intend to work closely with Ambulance on these matters. However I am keen to know the legal position.

There is no way St John’s authority to have red lights (or red/blue lights) and siren comes from an affiliation with the Ambulance Service of NSW.  It has to come independently.   The relevant rules are in the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 (NSW).    The Vehicle Standards are set out in Schedule 2.

Clause 33(2) says that a ‘motor vehicle must not be fitted with a device that can make a sound like the sound of a siren, exhaust whistle, compression whistle or repeater horn’.  This rule does not apply to, amongst other things, an ‘emergency vehicle’ (cl 33(3)(b)).    An emergency vehicle includes a vehicle that is being driven by ‘a member of the Ambulance Service rendering or providing transport for sick or injured persons’ (Schedule 2, Dictionary).  Note that it says ‘the Ambulance Service’, not ‘an ambulance service’ so one has to infer that means the Ambulance Service of NSW.

An ‘emergency services vehicle’ (which is different to an ‘emergency vehicle’) may be fitted with flashing headlights (cl 86).  An ‘emergency service vehicle’ includes ‘an ambulance’ (cl 86(7)(b)).  Does St John Ambulance (NSW) operate an ambulance?   ‘Ambulance’ is not defined.  According to the oxford dictionary (online) it is ‘A vehicle equipped for taking sick or injured people to and from hospital, especially in emergencies’.  I’m sure many of the vehicles used by St John would be considered an ‘ambulance’ even if they are not actually used for patient transport.  (For a similar discussion see Does St John Ambulance (Vic) operate ambulances? (March 26, 2015)).  The critical issue will actually be the attitude of the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS).  If there is some endorsement on the registration papers that the vehicle is an ‘ambulance’ then it is indeed an ambulance for the purpose of these rules in which case you can have the flashing headlights.  :

A vehicle must not have ‘a light that flashes or rotates’ or ‘shows a red light to the front’ or ‘shows a blue light’ (cl 124(2)) unless it is provided for in the rules.   Ambulances may be fitted with ‘a light or lights, at least one of which must be mounted on top of the vehicle, capable of displaying a flashing or rotating light’ (cl 124(4)).   In the case of an ambulance the light that may be displayed is ‘a blue or red light’ (cl 124(7)(a)).   One would normally read ‘or’ as a disjunct, ie a blue or a red light, not a blue and a red light, but clearly practice is to have both.

A ‘Red Cross vehicle, a mines rescue or other rescue vehicle or an emergency vehicle within the meaning of the Road Rules 2014…’ (other than vehicles listed in cl 124(7)(a) which includes an ambulance) are only to display a red light (cl 124(7(b)). An emergency vehicle within the meaning of the Road Rules 2014 (NSW) is a vehicle driven by an emergency worker which includes a vehicle driven by a ‘person (or a person belong to a class of persons) approved by the Authority’.

Even if the vehicles are not an ‘ambulance’ and even if St John volunteers are not appointed as ‘emergency workers’, the RMS may issue an exemption from any of the provisions of the Vehicle Standards (cl 10).  It follows that if there is a specific authority issued by RMS, St John may fit flashing lights and/or a siren in accordance with that authority or exemption.

So where does that leave St John (NSW)?

  1. If St John (NSW) vehicles are registered as an ‘ambulance’ then you can have flashing headlights and red/blue flashing lights. They cannot have a siren.
  2. If the vehicles are not registered or somehow endorsed by RMS as an ‘ambulance’ (and assuming St John doesn’t want to get an infringement or defect notice and then go to court to argue that they are in fact an ambulance) then has the RMS approved St John drivers’ as ‘emergency workers’? If they have then the vehicles are ‘an emergency vehicle within the meaning of the Road Rules 2014’ and you can have red flashing lights.  They cannot have a siren.
  3. If the vehicles are not an ‘ambulance’ and St John volunteers are not approved as ‘emergency workers’ St John would need an exemption issued by the RMS (cl 10) to fit flashing lights.
  4. To have a siren St John would need an exemption from cl 33(2) issued by RMS (cl 10).

Relevant flow charts are below:

St John (NSW) flashing lights

St John (NSW) siren