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Improperly fastened seatbelt can lead to stop

January 1, 2008
Front-seat passengers in cars must have their seatbelts properly fastened when the car is in motion, meaning the lap belt must be fastened and the shoulder belt across his or her shoulder, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

The appellate court examined Indiana Code Section 9-19-10-2 to come to the conclusion that to avoid being stopped by a police officer for a seatbelt violation, a person must have both the lap and shoulder harnesses fastened and placed properly on the body.

In State of Indiana v. Shawn Massey, No. 49A02-0712-CR-1136, the state appealed the trial court's grant of Shawn Massey's motion to suppress evidence found during what she claimed was an invalid traffic stop.

The police saw Massey's passenger, a 12-year-old girl, did not have the shoulder part of her seatbelt across her body properly, so they stopped the car. The girl had on only the lap portion of the belt; she had the shoulder harness tucked underneath her armpit.

Massey was charged with Class D felony operating a motor vehicle while a habitual traffic offender because after stopping the car, the police discovered she was driving with a suspended license.

At issue is how to construe the "properly fastened" language in the seatbelt statute. The state argued the passenger didn't have her seatbelt properly fastened because she was only wearing the lap belt correctly.

Chief Judge John Baker, noting there isn't any Indiana precedent on the case, agreed with the state's argument that it would be illogical to construe the statute as permitting a motorist to wear a seatbelt improperly. The purpose of the statute is to promote highway safety and to protect citizens.

The evidence on the record led the police to conclude that the passenger wasn't wearing her seatbelt because they saw the seatbelt tucked behind her shoulder, which initiated the stop, he wrote.

Because Massey committed a Class D infraction by having a passenger under the age of 16 not properly fastened by a safety belt, the police had the authority to ask for Massey's driver's license, which led to the discovery she was driving while her driving privileges were suspended.
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