How Do I Defend a Traffic Ticket for Failing to Wear a Seatbelt?

A Traffic Ticket for Failing to Wear a Seatbelt Can Be Difficult to Defend; However, There Are Various Ways to Do So In Some Circumstances. A Professional Legal Representative Can Review Your Case and Advise About Your Best Possible Defence Strategy.

Understanding How to Fight Seatbelt Charges and Potential Penalties Upon Conviction

Woman Putting on Seatbelt In Ontario, a driver may be charged for failing to properly use a seatbelt assembly as well as charged for failing to ensure that young passengers are also properly secured by a seatbelt.  In some circumstances, a passenger may be charged rather than the driver of the vehicle.  To defend a traffic ticket for improper seatbelt use, knowledge of seatbelt mandates and exceptions is required.

The Law

The requirements for proper seatbelt use, and various motor vehicle driver responsibilities, are detailed within section 106 of the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8 wherein it is stated:

Seat belts

Seat belt assembly must not be removed or altered

106 (1) No person shall drive on a highway a motor vehicle in which a seat belt assembly required under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Canada) at the time that the vehicle was manufactured or imported into Canada has been removed, rendered partly or wholly inoperative, modified so as to reduce its effectiveness or is not operating properly through lack of maintenance.

Use of seat belt assembly by driver

(2) Every person who drives on a highway a motor vehicle in which a seat belt assembly is provided for the driver shall wear the complete seat belt assembly as required by subsection (5).

Use of seat belt assembly by passenger

(3) Every person who is at least 16 years old and is a passenger in a motor vehicle on a highway shall,

(a) occupy a seating position for which a seat belt assembly has been provided; and

(b) wear the complete seat belt assembly as required by subsection (5).

Driver to ensure young passenger uses seat belt assembly

(4) No person shall drive on a highway a motor vehicle in which there is a passenger who is under 16 years old unless,

(a) that passenger,

(i) occupies a seating position for which a seat belt assembly has been provided, and

(ii) is wearing the complete seat belt assembly as required by subsection (5); or

(b) that passenger is required by the regulations to be secured by a child seating system or child restraint system, and is so secured.

How to wear seat belt assembly

(5) A seat belt assembly shall be worn so that,

(a) the pelvic restraint is worn firmly against the body and across the hips;

(b) the torso restraint, if there is one, is worn closely against the body and over the shoulder and across the chest;

(c) the pelvic restraint, and the torso restraint, if there is one, are securely fastened; and

(d) no more than one person is wearing the seat belt assembly at any one time.

Exception

(6) Subsections (2) and (3) do not apply to a person,

(a) who is driving a motor vehicle in reverse;

(b) who holds a certificate signed by a legally qualified medical practitioner certifying that the person is,

(i) for the period stated in the certificate, unable for medical reasons to wear a seat belt assembly, or

(ii) because of the person’s size, build or other physical characteristic, unable to wear a seat belt assembly; or

(c) who is actually engaged in work which requires him or her to alight from and re-enter the motor vehicle at frequent intervals and the motor vehicle does not travel at a speed exceeding 40 kilometres per hour.

Same

(7) Clause (4) (a) does not apply in respect of a passenger if the passenger holds a certificate signed by a legally qualified medical practitioner certifying that the passenger is,

(a) for the period stated in the certificate, unable for medical reasons to wear a seat belt assembly; or

(b) because of the person’s size, build or other physical characteristic, unable to wear a seat belt assembly.

Regulations

(8) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may make regulations,

(a) requiring that children or any class of children be secured in child seating systems and child restraint systems in motor vehicles on highways;

(b) prescribing the specifications of child seating systems and child restraint systems, prescribing different child seating systems and child restraint systems for different classes of children, governing the use of such systems, including prescribing the manner in which a child is to be secured in child seating systems and child restraint systems;

(c) prescribing classes of children, based on the age, height or weight of a child or the relationship of a child to the driver or owner of the motor vehicle;

(d) prescribing classes of motor vehicles, drivers and passengers;

(e) exempting from any of the provisions of this section or the regulations made under this section,

(i) any class of motor vehicle,

(ii) any class of driver or passenger, or

(iii) drivers carrying any prescribed class of passenger,

and prescribing conditions for any such exemption;

(f) prescribing circumstances in which drivers, or any class of driver, is exempt from any of the provisions of this section or the regulations made under this section, and prescribing conditions for any such exemption.

Police may request passenger’s identification

(8.1) A police officer or officer appointed for carrying out the provisions of this Act may request that a passenger in a motor vehicle who appears to be at least 16 years old identify himself or herself if the officer has reason to believe that the passenger is contravening this section or the regulations made under this section.

Same

(8.2) A passenger who is requested to identify himself or herself under subsection (8.1) shall give the officer reasonable identification of himself or herself and, for such purposes, giving his or her correct name, date of birth and address is reasonable identification.

Offence

(8.3) Every person who contravenes or fails to comply with this section or a regulation made under this section is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine of not less than $200 and not more than $1,000.

Definition

(9) In this section,

seat belt assembly” means a device or assembly composed of straps, webbing or similar material that restrains the movement of a person in order to prevent or mitigate injury to the person and includes a pelvic restraint or a pelvic restraint and a torso restraint.

Defence Strategy
Raising Reasonable Doubt

As with all traffic ticket charges, in a case allegaing failure to wear seatbelt, the Prosecutor must prove that the offence occurred beyond a reasonable doubt; and accordingly, if a reasonable doubt arises, the court is required to dismiss the charge.  There are many circumstances that may raise a reasonable doubt such as by demonstrating that the police officer, or other person, was possibly mistaken when viewing and perceiving that the accused driver, or accused passenger, was without a properly fastened seatbelt.

Statutory Exceptions

Interestingly, and as fully shown above, there are many exceptions to the requirement to wear a seatbelt; and accordingly, when charged with a seatbelt violation a defence strategy may involve presenting an argument that an exception applies; and accordingly, the charge should fail and the traffic ticket should be dismissed.  In summary, the exceptions negating the requirement to wear a seatbelt include:

  • When a driver is driving in reverse;
  • When a doctor or similarly qualified medical practitioner provides a certificate stating that a person is unable to wear a seatbelt due to medical reasonsp;
  • When a person is of a size, build, or is otherwise physically unable to wear a seatbelt; and
  • When a person is working in a manner that involves frequently getting in or out of the vehicle and the vehicle is traveling at a maximum of forty (40) kilometres per hour.

The need for the Prosecutor to prove the seatbelt charge beyond a reasonable doubt and the availability of applicable exception defences was explained within the case of Sault Ste. Marie (City) v. Powley, 2015 ONCJ 712 wherein it was said:

[11]  Subsection 106(2) of the HTA creates a strict liability offence for the driver who fails to wear a complete seat belt assembly: see R. v. Wilson, 2014 ONCA 212, 308 C.C.C. (3d) 350.  Therefore, to secure a finding of guilt, the Prosecution must prove each constituent element of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt: see R. v. Sault Ste. Marie, [1978] 2 SCR 1299, 1978 CanLII 11 (SCC); R. v. Wilson, 2014 ONCA 212, 308 C.C.C. (3d) 350.   In the present case, the Prosecution and Defence agree that this legal threshold is met. However, there are two additional ways by which a defendant can avoid a guilty verdict.

[12]  A defendant can, on a balance of probabilities, establish that he or she took all reasonable steps to avoid the problem act or omission, which is commonly referred to as a defence of due diligence: see R. v. Sault Ste. Marie, [1978] 2 SCR 1299, 1978 CanLII 11 (SCC);  R. v. Wilson, 2014 ONCA 212, 308 C.C.C. (3d) 350.  Mr. Powley did not advance such a defence.

[13]  A defendant can also avoid a guilty verdict by proving, on a balance of probabilities, that he or she meets the requirements for one or more of the statutory exemptions set out in s. 106(6) of the HTA or the applicable regulations in O Reg. 613, R.R.O. 1990. This is the avenue pursued by Mr. Powley with respect to the exemption authorized by s. 106 (6)(b)(ii) of the HTA.

[14]  For convenience and for ease of reference, it will be helpful to reproduce the relevant legislative provisions of the HTA and the Provincial Offences Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.P.33  (“POA”). Subsections 106(2) and 106(6) of the HTA read as follows:

(2)  Use of seat belt assembly by driver -  Every person who drives on a highway a motor vehicle in which a seat belt assembly is provided for the driver shall wear the complete seat assembly as required by subsection (5).

(6)  Exception -  Subsections (2) and (3) do not apply to a person,

(a)  who is driving a motor vehicle in reverse;

(b)  who holds a certificate signed by a legally qualified medical practitioner certifying that the person is,

(i)  for the period stated in the certificate, unable for medical reasons to wear a seat belt assembly, or

(ii) because of the person’s size, build or other physical characteristic, unable to wear a seat belt assembly; or

(c)  who is actually engaged in work which requires him or her to alight from and re-enter the motor vehicle at frequent intervals and the motor vehicle does not travel at a speed exceeding 40 kilometers  per hour.

[15]  Subsection 47(3) of the POA states that it is the defendant who carries the burden of proving that he or she meets the requirements of a statutory exemption. The provision reads as follows:

s. 47(3)  Burden of proving exception, etc. -  The burden of proving that an authorization, exception, exemption or qualification prescribed by law operates in favour of the defendant is on the defendant, and the prosecutor is not required, except by way of rebuttal, to prove that the authorization, exception, exemption or qualification does not operate in favour of the defendant, whether or not it is set out in the information.

Diligence

As was also explained within the Sault Ste. Marie case provided above, an accused may also successfully defend a failure to wear seatbelt case by proving that the failure arose despite reasonable efforts to abide by the law.  The relevant facts required to prove a due diligence defence will vary depending on the circumstances of each case; and accordingly, a professional review of each case is necessary when determining whether a due diligence defence strategy is available and likely to succeed.

Penalties If Convicted

If a driver, or other accused person, is convicted of failing to wear a seatbelt, the penalty includes a fine ranging from $200 to $1,000 plus victim surcharge and court costs.  Additionally, two demerit points will be accumulated and applied to the licence of the driver by the Ministry of Transportation; however, surprisingly, demerit points are unaccumulated when an over age 16 passenger is convicted.  Lastly, adverse affects upon the insurance rates for the driver, or over age 16 passenger, may also apply.

Summary Comment

There are many strategies available for defending a traffic ticket involving a seatbelt charge.  The strategies include:

  • The raising of a reasonable doubt that the offence actually occurred by, among other things, demonstrating the possibility that observations by the charging officer were inaccurate;
  • The proving that a statutory exception to the requirement of wearing a seatbelt applies; or
  • The proving that the accused made reasonable efforts, meaning acted with due diligence, to comply with the law.

Determining which strategy, or strategies, are best for your situation requires a professional review of the unique circumstances of your case.  Hooshmand Paralegal may be available to assist with this determination.

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