When determining the issue of contributory negligence for failure to wear a seatbelt, judges will typically look at the regulatory regime in place. Nowadays, most provinces have a statutory obligation for occupants of automobiles to wear a seatbelt. In New Brunswick, the requirement is set at s. 200.1 of the Motor Vehicle Act, RSNB 1973, c. M-17. In addition to prohibiting the alteration of such devices, it provides that:
200.1 (1) In this section
“properly adjusted”, with reference to a seat belt assembly designed to be worn over the upper torso, means worn snugly across the top of the shoulder and diagonally across the chest with no limb, other object or other material coming between the assembly and the body other than clothing or a sling or other medical aid recommended by a medical practitioner;
“seat belt assembly” means a device or assembly composed of straps, webbing or similar material that restrains the movement of a person in order to prevent or mitigate injury to the person and includes a pelvic restraint or an upper torso restraint or both of them.
(3) 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 in a properly adjusted and securely fastened manner.
(4) Every person who is at least sixteen years old and who is a passenger in a motor vehicle being driven on a highway shall
(a) occupy a seating position for which a seat belt assembly is provided, and
(b) wear the complete seat belt assembly in a properly adjusted and securely fastened manner.
(6) No person shall drive on a highway a motor vehicle in which there is a passenger under the age of sixteen years unless
(a) that passenger occupies a seating position for which a seat belt assembly has been provided and is wearing the complete seat belt assembly in a properly adjusted and secure fashion, or
(b) that passenger occupies and is properly secured in a child seating and restraint system prescribed by regulation.
A few exceptions are defined in ss. 200.1(5) and (7) but wearing a seatbelt is otherwise mandatory since 1983. According to s. 347, failure to do so is a Category ‘C’ offence under the Provincial Offences Procedure Act, SNB 1987, c. P-22.1. It may lead to sanctions in the form of fines and 2 demerit points for the driver (Motor Vehicle Act, supra s. 297(2)(i.1)).
Occupants of other types of vehicles are also required to wear seatbelts. More specifically, in New Brunswick, since 2020, the Off-Road Vehicle Act, SNB 1985, c. O-1.5, provides that:
22.2 (1) No person shall drive an off-road vehicle unless
(a) the person is wearing a seat belt, if the person is occupying a seat in which a seat belt is provided for, and
(b) any occupant who is under 16 years of age is wearing a seat belt, if the occupant is occupying a seat in which a seat belt is provided for.
(2) No person who is 16 years of age or older shall be an occupant in an off-road vehicle unless the person is wearing a seat belt, if the person is occupying a seat in which a seat belt is provided for.
According to s. 29, failure to wear a seatbelt is a Category ‘C’ offence under the Provincial Offence Procedure Act, supra.
Now that there are general requirements to wear seatbelts in vehicles that are equipped with such devices, tort law is likely to become more assertive on the issue. However, there is still a need to consider the role that a seatbelt plays in each case.