Legal i

Feeling restrained

Q. I suffer from a form of claustrophobia that makes me panic at times when wearing a seat belt, because I feel trapped in my seat. Consequently, I often do not wear a seat belt when I am driving. And due to a restriction in my shoulder movements caused by a falI some years ago, I also find it extremely difficult to put a seat belt on and take it off.

I believe I am exempt from wearing a seat belt on medical grounds. Am I right? Is it also correct that I do not, in any event, have to wear a seat belt while reversing?

A. You can be exempted only if a doctor has signed a certificate to the effect that it is inadvisable on medical grounds for you to wear a seat belt. The certificate has to specify the period it is valid and must bear an exemption symbol shown in the regulations.

Leaving aside the claustrophobia, the fact that you can wear a seat belt but cannot put it on or take it off yourself does not mean that you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a seat belt.

However, a doctor might feel justified in such circumstances in granting you a certificate if he considers it would be inadvisable on medical grounds for you to wear one.

If you were to be prosecuted for failure to wear a seat belt and you produced a medical certificate to this effect (and see below for rules as to when you must produce the certificate), the prosecution cannot challenge your doctor’s reasons for issuing the certificate.

Having the certificate is not in itself enough to avoid a prosecution for failure to wear a seat belt while driving. If you are warned of a prosecution you can rely on the certificate only if:

  • it is produced at the time of the warning to a police constable; or
  • it is produced within 7 days to a specified police station; or
  • it is produced at the specified police station as soon as reasonably practicable; or
  • it is not reasonably practicable for it to be produced at the specified police station before the day on which the proceedings are commenced.

“Commencement of proceedings” means the date the “information” is laid before the court, that is the date the court is formally informed of the alleged offence. In my opinion, the law does not require that you produce the certificate in person.

You are correct in saying that you do not have to wear a seat belt while reversing. In fact the exemption extends a bit beyond the actual reversing, because it applies to a “manoeuvre which includes reversing”, and it would be a question of fact for the court to decide when the manoeuvre began and ended.

The reversing exemption applies not only to a driver, but also to a qualified driver supervising a learner driver. It does not, however, extend to any other passenger, even if the passenger was assisting and giving advice regarding clearance or other aspects of the manoeuvre.

Designed by solicitors, tested by barristers and available around the clock, Road Traffic Representation is an online legal system that allows people accused of a motoring offence to get free advice on how the law will be applied in their case, and referral to a telephone helpline and representation by a barrister in court if required. Practising solicitor Martin Langan spent two years designing the system and creating the data repository which allows the software to analyse road traffic offences with the same authority as a solicitor.

Twitter: martinlangan
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