The culture and law surrounding seat belt usage across Canada’s history has changed a lot between today and the time that our grandparents grew up in. Seat belt laws in Ontario only came into effect January 1, 1976. Ontario was the first part of Canada to enact seat belt laws followed shortly thereafter by Quebec (August 15, 1976), Saskatchewan (July 1, 1977), and British Columbia (October 1, 1977). Yukon was the last part of Canada to enact seatbelt laws (July 1, 1991).
The basic purpose of a seat belt is to protect the safety of a vehicle’s driver and passengers and they are required to be worn under current Ontario law. Seat belts are a good idea and they save lives. However, seat belts were not necessarily as culturally accepted during the era of our grandparents as they are to the young drivers of today. Seat belts require effort to put on, some people may feel restricted or uncomfortable using them, and some people may believe that wearing a seat belt may cause more harm than help in the event of a collision.
Failing to wear a seat belt can result in being stopped and charged by the police. If you then plead guilty or are elsewise convicted of the offence you will receive a record of conviction and demerit points against your driving record, a fine, and will be at risk of increased insurance costs. Seat belt offences are generally issued under section 106 of the Highway Traffic Act:
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. 2006, c. 25, s. 1.
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). 2006, c. 25, s. 1.
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). 2006, c. 25, s. 1.
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. 2006, c. 25, s. 1.
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. 2006, c. 25, s. 1.
Demerit Points / CVOR Points
The most common demerit point penalty for a seatbelt conviction in Ontario is a 2 demerit point penalty. However, a conviction for driving with an inoperable seat belt carries no demerit point penalty. If you have been charged as a commercial motor vehicle driver, you may also be facing a 1 CVOR point penalty.
Generally the fine associated with a standard ticket for failing to wear a seatbelt is $200.00 plus court costs and victim fine surcharge for a total payable of $240.00. However, if the charge has been issued under a summons the fine can go much higher:
“(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. 2009, c. 5, s. 37.”
The impact on your insurance will depend on which insurance company you are with and how they handle risk assessment. Factors that may be included in risk assessment can include your age, where you live, whether you have prior convictions, and the nature of your prior convictions amongst various factors. The best, most accurate source of information would be your insurance broker although some discretion may be appropriate in disclosing any information that could unnecessarily impact your insurance costs.
There are some exemptions to the requirement of wearing a seatbelt in Ontario. These exemptions are listed under Highway Traffic Act section 106(6):
(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 kilometers per hour. 2006, c. 25, s. 1.
Unfortunately even if you meet one of these exemptions, you may still receive a ticket from the police and have to defend your interests at court. An Officer at roadside may not be familiar with the above exemptions or may not be familiar with your doctor’s documentation exempting you from seat belt usage. Once you have been issued a ticket, it is up to you to decide what to do about it.
Seat belts and their legal requirement to be worn have come a long way since rubber tires first hit the roads of Canada. Regardless of an individual’s preference towards wearing a seatbelt, they must be worn before setting your vehicle in motion unless you have a valid exemption. Failing to do so can result in a substantial fine, demerit points, a record of conviction to your driver’s abstract, and an increase to your insurance costs. If you pay your seat belt ticket, you are pleading guilty to the offence and are thereby convicted. If you plead guilty to your ticket, there will be fewer and weaker legal options open to you should you later change your mind.
Before deciding what to do with a ticket, it is time well spent to seek out information about your legal rights and options. OTD Legal provides a no-cost, no obligation initial review of matters and can generally provide a low-cost block fee to cover all of the court filings and appearances in your matter. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our toll-free number 1-844-647-6869.