For many Ontarians, the notion of wearing a seatbelt is so ingrained that it is surprising to think that we need a law to enforce what seems to be a common sense thing. In fact, the prevalent use of seatbelts in Ontario is a result of the evolution of attitudes, car design, and the law. It was not all that long ago that new cars did not necessarily come with seat belts and there was no law mandating the use of seatbelts.
In Ontario, mandatory seat belt use was first required in January 1976. Other provinces followed with mandatory seat belt requirements with Quebec in mid-1976, and many other provinces not until the mid to late 1980’s. The Yukon imposed mandatory seat belt rules in 1991.
The requirement for seatbelt use, in Ontario, is set out in the Highway Traffic Act, specifically section 106. The law establishes that seatbelts are not to be altered, that every vehicle occupant has to have a seatbelt and that it needs to be worn properly. The specifics of the law are quite detailed. The law, in relation to vehicle occupants under the age of 16, imposes on the driver an obligation to ensure that the young person wears a seatbelt in the vehicle. For persons over the age of 16 the failure to wear a seatbelt becomes an offence for that person (as opposed to the driver).
Seatbelt use is a significant issue in personal injury actions involving motor-vehicles. The lawyers here at Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP, will always inquire of our clients whether or not a seat-belt was worn at the time of an accident. This is because every client will face that inevitable question from insurance company lawyers at an examination for discovery. From a liability and causation perspective, insurers take the position that a person who suffers an injury in a car accident, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, is firstly breaking the law at the time of the accident, and secondly has caused or significantly contributed to the injury they sustained by failing to wear the seatbelt. Sometimes the argument goes so far as to suggest that there would be no injury but for the failure to wear the seatbelt. The legal consequence can be that a claim for damages for personal injuries is substantially reduced or even dismissed.
Seatbelt use and the enforcement of seatbelt laws is often the subject of intermittent blitzes by local police forces. For not wearing a seatbelt fines are common as are demerit points in all provinces (except Alberta) though the number of points varies by province.