Today’s correspondent asks for my

… interpretation on the NSW Road rules definition of an emergency vehicle. I note an emergency vehicle is only defined as such if it is driven by an emergency service worker. The definition of an emergency service worker is listed as “a member of the Ambulance Service or the ambulance service of another State or Territory, in the course of providing transport in an emergency associated with the provision of aid to sick or injured persons…”. I was wondering if the interpretation of that definition would mean that ambulances are only emergency vehicles if responding to a patient and while taking a patient to hospital?

Those definitions are taken from the Road Rules 2014 (NSW).  Does that mean ‘ambulances are only emergency vehicles if responding to a patient and while taking a patient to hospital?’ I don’t think so, I think the concept is slightly broader than that.

To be an emergency vehicle the ambulance officer has to be:

  • Providing transport:
  • In an emergency:
  • Associated with the provision of aid to sick or injured persons.

The Oxford English dictionary defines ‘transport’ as ‘Take or carry (people or goods) from one place to another by means of a vehicle, aircraft, or ship’ (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/transport).  The transport does not have to be of the patient, so taking the paramedics to the scene, or specialised transport eg bringing rescue equipment to or from the scene, is all ‘transport’.

We have some idea of what emergency means in the Road Rules given the Court of Criminal Appeal’s decision in  Wells v R [2017] NSWCCA 242 (13 October 2017).  An emergency has to be some circumstance that has ‘some aspect of urgency to it’ (see Court of Appeal dismisses appeal by RFS tanker driver involved in fatal collision (October 13, 2017)).

Associate with means ‘connected’ to (again see Oxford English dictionary definition of ‘associated’; https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/associated).  What is ‘associated with the provision of aid to sick or injured persons’ could be a matter of debate.  Clearly responding to the triple zero call or determining that a patient’s condition warrants an urgent response to hospital would fall within that definition.  Other things may too, eg being called to stand by at a police action or fire in order to be there to treat anyone who is injured would be ‘associated’ with the provision of aid’.

Conclusion

The use of the term ‘associated with’ means that it is more than actual provision of aid to actually injured people.  Should however the issue arise, that is should an ambulance officer be prosecuted for an offence and he or she wants to rely on r 306 to say that they had an exemption from that road rule, the question of whether their task was sufficiently ‘associated with the provision of aid to sick or injured persons’ would be a matter for the Magistrate.