I am hoping you can provide some advice regarding Drivers Licences for NSW Ambulance Paramedics.  Specifically, can a holder of a private conditional licence (subject to annual medical review) drive an ambulance?

According to the national Assessing Fitness to Drive publication issued by Ausroads, the Private Standard applies to licenses up to LR (which is what ambulance requires).  The commercial standard only applies to drivers of heavy vehicles, public passenger vehicles for hire or reward (bus drivers, taxi drivers, chauffeurs, drivers of hire cars and small buses etc.).

I cannot find anything, either internally or externally, defining exactly what license a paramedic requires, ie Private or Commercial Standard.  Are you able to offer an opinion on this? If you believe it is the Commercial Standards that apply would this be due to an ambulance being a vehicle that carries public passengers (ie patients) or is it due to it being an emergency vehicle?

The Assessing Fitness to Drive document is incorporated into NSW law by the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2008 (NSW) reg 50 which says:

The Authority may, by notice in writing, require the holder of a driver licence …

(c) to undergo a medical examination, conducted in accordance with Assessing Fitness to Drive , by a medical practitioner or allied professional practitioner, or produce evidence of compliance with the medical standards set out in that publication, to determine the holder’s medical fitness to hold a driver licence, or a licence of a particular class…

The regulation does not however say what standards are to be applied.   Assessing Fitness to Drive says that for car and light rigid licence holders,

Private standards apply UNLESS:

  • driver holds or is applying for an authority to carry public passengers for hire or reward (e.g. taxi driver)
  • driver holds or is applying for an authority to carry bulk dangerous goods
  • driver holds or is applying to hold authority to be a driving instructor.

In these cases the commercial standards apply.

It goes on to say (emphasis added) (p 12):

The standards are intended for application to drivers who drive within the ambit of ordinary road laws. Drivers who are permitted to exceed these laws, such as emergency service vehicle drivers, should have a risk assessment and an appropriate level of medical standard applied.

In New South Wales a public passenger vehicle is:

(a) a bus used to provide a public passenger service, or

(b) a ferry used to provide a regular passenger service, or

(c) a taxi-cab or private hire vehicle, or

(d) a vehicle declared by a regulation under section 6 to be a public passenger vehicle. (Passenger Transport Act 1990 (NSW) s 3).

Tourist service vehicles have been declared to be a public passenger vehicle (Passenger Transport Regulation 2007 (NSW) reg 202).

The Medical Assessment Form that must be completed to obtain a Public Passenger Vehicle Driver authority says ‘The medical examination must be conducted in accordance with the commercial medical standards described in the “Assessing Fitness to Drive, Commercial and Private Vehicle Drivers (2012)”.

It can be inferred that the commercial standards apply when an authority is sought to drive a public passenger vehicle as defined in the Passenger Transport Act 1990 (NSW). An ambulance is not a public passenger vehicle and so, prima facie, the private standard applies, but as noted the standard expects that a different standard may be applied to emergency workers.

Given that the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2008 (NSW) reg 50 does not set a standard and the standard itself says ‘The assignment of medical standards for vehicle drivers is based on an evaluation of the driver, passenger and public safety risk, where risk = likelihood of the event x severity of consequences’ then the RMS can apply whichever standard they see fit. Further, it would be possible for the Ambulance Service to insist on the higher standard as part of its risk assessment and in consideration of its obligations to ambulance officers, patients and the public.

S0 my view is that a paramedic could assume that the private standard applies but the RMS and/or the Ambulance Service could insist on the higher standard and if that was considered unreasonable the paramedic would need to challenge that decision under administrative law remedies.