An ambulance service employee from Western Australia:

.. encountered an issue in my ambulance service where a total of 6 people was requested to be conveyed.

The classification plate which is located inside the passenger door states this type of vehicle Seats 5, which in my interpretation also means insured only to carry 5 at anytime, whether people be laying, sitting or standing.

The plate holds information with regards to the category, which is NB1, Standards Act 1989, VIN number, GVM (gross vehicle mass) which is 3880kg and approval number.

Within our Ambulance design, and like most others I’ve worked on over the many years around the world, there are 2 seats in the front, 3 seats in the back, and a stretcher for the patient. So the total capacity to carry in this type of layout could be 6. But it is my belief that under the category NB1 we’re only allowed to carry 5 and unless as an ambulance we have an exemption, which I cannot find, then by transferring a vehicle with 6 would be breaking the law. But if an exemption is noted within the road traffic law, then would all journeys be the same, ie planed, urgent and emergency?

All vehicles on Australian roads are covered by compulsory third party insurance to ensure that anyone injured in a motor vehicle accident, other than the driver at fault, receives compensation.  The insurance is one of indemnity and is required by law in each state.  The insurer cannot get out of the obligation to pay compensation.  It is a social welfare scheme as we know the price of having vehicles is that people get injured. You could have 20 people in a car and if there’s an accident all will recover under the CTP scheme (subject to any deduction for contributory negligence for knowingly getting into the car, but that’s not an issue here).  The question of insurance is irrelevant for this discussion.

The vehicle category NB1 is a light truck with a “GVM between 3.5 tonnes and 4.5 tonnes” (Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development Light Commercial Vehicle Safety (2017), p. 2; Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 42/04 – General Safety Requirements) 2005 (Cth), [3.3]).   There is nothing that says an NB1 vehicle can only seat 5.  The number of people that a vehicle can seat depends on how many seats with seat belts there are.

I would infer that if the compliance plate says the vehicle ‘seats 5’ it means that it seats 5 not that it may only carry 5 passengers (see Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 3/03 – Seats and Seat Anchorages) 2006 (Cth); Road Traffic Code 2000 (WA) r 230, definition of ‘seating position’).  If the ambulance has 2 seats in the front, 3 seats in the back and the stretcher, then it seats 5.

It should be noted that “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” (Road Traffic Code 2000 (WA) r 235(9)).  I don’t think anyone would quibble about whether the treatment met the definition of ‘urgent and necessary’ if the person was on the stretcher of an ambulance even if paramedics would distinguish between routine and life-threatening jobs.

The CEO may grant exemptions from the requirements to wear seat belts etc (r 240).  I don’t know whether any specific exemption has been granted to allow patients to be transported on a stretcher but I would not be surprised if that had been done.


What follows is that, in my view

  • Vehicle category, in this case NB1, does not determine how many people the vehicle can carry.
  • ‘The classification plate which is located inside the passenger door states this type of vehicle Seats 5’ which means it can seat 5, not carry 5.
  • A person on a stretcher is not required to wear a seat belt (Road Traffic Code 2000 (WA) r 235(9) (which doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to use one and the obligation to fit stretchers with seat belts may arise under other law most relevantly the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1984 (WA)).
  • There may be specific exemptions to allow an ambulance to carry a person on a stretcher rather than in a seating position, but I cannot confirm that.
  • The question of insurance is irrelevant to this issue. The driver is indemnified, and everyone is covered, if there is an accident (Motor Vehicle (Third Party Insurance) Act 1943 (WA)).