Hergott: The safety factor of wearing a seat belt is not up for debate

Imagine today, glancing into the back seat of a car and seeing unbelted children playing on a mattress.

I remember once playing with my brother in the back seat of the car during a family road trip.

I remember that the floor area of the back seat was packed with stuff and that my brother and I played on a thin mattress on top. We didn’t wear seat belts.

Back then it was the early 1970s and wearing seat belts was not commonplace. Imagine today, glancing into the back seat of a car and seeing unbelted children playing on a mattress.

I feel naked if I am sitting in a vehicle without a seat belt on. Seeing anyone not wearing a seat belt looks out of place.

The only time I regularly see vehicle occupants not wearing seat belts is when I’m a passenger in a taxi cab.

When I have raised the topic with taxi drivers, I have been told that they don’t have to wear them.

How’s that for a reason. A taxi driver is not compelled by law to pull the seat belt around his or her body.

Do we stop at stop signs, not drink and drive, signal when we turn, stop behind school buses and slow down to 30 kms/hour in school zones because those driving behaviours are required by law?

Think about it. To a large extent, the answer is yes. How pathetic is that?

We should be adopting safe driving behaviours, and wearing our seat belts, because we want to save lives and reduce injury, not because the law requires it. Our driving mentality has to change, folks.

A Vancouver taxi driver, Mr. Sangha, was injured in a crash on May 31, 2005. The case went to trial in April, 2012, and the judge released her decision on May 23, 2012.

Mr. Sangha had not been wearing his seat belt because a City of Vancouver bylaw exempts taxi drivers from wearing a seat belt if they are travelling under 70 km/h.

The defence, effectively ICBC, sought to reduce Mr. Sangha’s entitlement to compensation for his injuries and losses because he had not been wearing a seat belt.

They wanted the court to find that there was, in legal terms, “contributory negligence” on Mr. Sangha’s part, that his failure to wear a seat belt contributed to his injuries and losses.

The judge, Madam Justice Boyd, carefully considered the defence position. She reviewed the law that quite clearly opens the door for a defence argument of contributory negligence even if the law does not compel seat belt use.

Consider that law the next time you are frolicking in a limousine, or riding a bus. If you won’t wear a seat belt because you are not compelled to by law or for your own safety, consider wearing a seat belt because ICBC could use your failure to do so as an excuse to reduce the compensation you are entitled to if you are injured in a crash.

Fortunately for Mr. Sangha, Madam Justice Boyd was, in her words, “unable to find that any specific injury suffered by the plaintiff was caused by any specific movement in the vehicle which would have been avoided had he been wearing a seat belt.”

She rejected the defence position that it was a matter of “common sense” that Mr. Sangha’s injuries would have been avoided, or lessened, if he had been wearing his seat belt. His compensation was not reduced as a result of his failure to wear a seat belt.

As dumb as it may be not to wear a seat belt, failure to do so will not reduce the defence responsibility to fairly compensate for the injuries and other losses arising from bad driving unless the defence can prove that wearing a seat belt would have prevented or lessened those injuries and losses.

Don’t be dumb. Wear your seat belt. Generally, please take care for your own safety and the safety of others because it’s the right thing to do, not because the law requires it or because your injury claim might be impacted if you fail to do so.

Kelowna Capital News