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My old car doesn’t have seatbelts. Is that okay?

If your classic car was made without them, fine — but don't transport children in it

Published November 28, 2013
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Q: A friend says our classic cars must be modified to have seatbelts for all passengers, but we believe cars not originally made with seatbelts are exempt. I couldn’t find the answer on my own. Can you help?

A: Ontario Transportation Ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols replies:

Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act (HTA) doesn’t require vehicle owners to install seatbelts into vehicles not originally manufactured with such. However, please note the information below.

Section 106 HTA requires drivers and passengers to occupy a seating position in a motor vehicle (as opposed to sitting in the cargo area of a van) and wear the complete seatbelt assembly. Additionally, drivers are required to ensure that child passengers are secured properly in a prescribed child car restraint system or booster seat.

It is not clear what is meant by “classic cars.” However, section 9 and 10 of Ontario Regulation 613 provides some exceptions to the above-noted requirements under S.106 HTA for older vehicles and those originally manufactured without seatbelts.

Vehicles manufactured or imported into Canada prior to January 1974, did not have the torso component of the seatbelt assembly. Accordingly, section 9 exempts drivers and passengers from the requirement to wear the torso component of a seatbelt in those vehicles.

Section 10 provides an exemption for drivers and passengers from wearing a seat belt if a motor vehicle was manufactured without seat belt assemblies for each seating position and the vehicle was not modified to include seatbelt assemblies.

In the case of child passengers, this exemption doesn’t exempt a driver from his or her obligation to ensure that a young child passenger, under age 8, is secured using the prescribed child car seat restraint or booster seat system. Drivers are legally obligated to ensure that these young child passengers are secured in the appropriate child car seat restraint or booster seat system.

This exemption however, allows that the drivers don’t have to ensure that older children, between the ages of 8 and 16 years, are secured with a seatbelt assembly if the vehicle wasn’t manufactured with them. While permitted by law, the ministry doesn’t recommend such action, but rather advocates the use of an alternate vehicle equipped with seatbelts as a safer way to transport any child passenger.

Eric Lai adds:

Basically, if your car has seatbelts, use them. If the vehicle wasn’t made with, nor modified to have seatbelts, the usage requirement is waived. However, infants and children under age 8 can’t be transported in such vehicles as they must be properly secured.

Although the HTA doesn’t require the use of the (separate) shoulder belt in pre-1974 cars, many readers report being ticketed nonetheless for “fail to properly wear seatbelt” and then having to meet with a prosecutor or attend court to have the ticket withdrawn.

Email your non-mechanical questions to Eric Lai at wheels@thestar.ca. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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