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Sometimes Seatbelts Endanger Lives: Bus Driver Not Guilty of Seatbelt Charge

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The Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench has overturned a Saskatoon transit driver’s traffic court conviction for failing to wear his seatbelt while on the job.  The driver claimed that his refusal was justified due to the risk of assaults by passengers, which he claimed was a “growing nationwide epidemic” that he and a number of his colleagues had experienced firsthand.

 At issue was a contest between a Saskatoon employee policy and the province’s Traffic Safety Act.  The employee policy states that all public employees must be buckled in whenever they are behind the wheel of a city vehicle, while the Traffic Safety Act exempts a bus driver from the requirement to wear a seatbelt if he or she has reason to believe the seatbelt might put them at risk of injury.

 The Crown argued that under the Traffic Safety Act exemption, the driver should be permitted to unbuckle only when he or she faces a specific  risk of injury from a specific person or circumstance – for example, a passenger who suddenly becomes violent.  The driver argued the exemption is broader and should be extended to situations where drivers face less-specific threats, such as continuous exposure to safety threats such as assaults.   The driver argued that once drivers have identified a specific risk of injury, it is often too late for them to remove their seatbelts in order to defend themselves, so that drivers should be permitted to not buckle up at all.

 The Court agreed with the driver and found that the exemption in the Traffic Safety Act should be interpreted broadly.  In overturning the driver’s conviction, finding him not guilty of the seatbelt charge, the Court further concluded that the driver’s decision not to wear his seatbelt was a reasonable reaction to the experiences of himself and others.

 Read the decision at:  http://www.canlii.org/en/sk/skqb/doc/2011/2011skqb390/2011skqb390.pdf