What follows is an assessment written by a non-attorney citizen-taxpayer of how DMV Form C-58 related to a series of personal events. It is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. For a legal opinion on seat belt law and/or DMV Form C-58, please consult an attorney of your choice and/or the Legal Department of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. That’s what I did.
Section 3 and Section 7 below are quoted from NY VTL 1229c. All other citations are from correspondence dated October 18, 2012, addressed to me by Dinah M. Crossway, Esq, Assistant Counsel for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. All images courtesy Google Images. Any similarities to any person, living or dead, or to any event occurring since the beginning of the world up to and including this present moment is unintended, could not have been reasonably predicted, and has nothing to do with YOU. So, don’t threaten me with your smarmy attorney, okay, or with Deputy Sheriff Br—s (because that bogus littering thing didn’t work the first time he tried it and chances are it won’t work now, either).
New York’s seat belt law, Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) Section 1229-c is a “plain language” law. It contains no esoteric legal jargon that might cloud its meaning or intent. Therefore, one need not be a rocket scientist (or an attorney) to understand that subsection 3 requires motor vehicle operators (and front-seat passengers over the age of 15) to wear a seat belt:
No person shall operate a motor vehicle unless such person is restrained by a safety belt approved by the commissioner. No person sixteen years of age or over shall be a passenger in the front seat of a motor vehicle unless such person is restrained by a safety belt approved by the commissioner.
and that subsection 7 provides an exemption to subsection 3 under certain conditions:
The provisions of this section shall not apply to a passenger or operator with a physically disabling condition whose physical disability would prevent appropriate restraint in such safety seat or safety belt provided, however, such condition is duly certified by a physician who shall state the nature of the handicap, as well as the reason such restraint is inappropriate.
What this means to me, who is neither a rocket scientist nor an attorney but who nonetheless possesses a reasonable degree of cerebral function, is that if you are diagnosed with a medical condition that prevents you from safely wearing a seat belt, subsection 3 does not apply to you as long as your doctor certifies it by writing it down. Thereafter, you can drive a car (or ride in one) in the great state of New York, including but not limited to the corner of Slocum and Ridge in beautiful downtown Wayne County, without worrying about subsection 3.
So, how does DMV Form C-58 figure into (and mess up) this otherwise happy scenario? The short answer is, it doesn’t. The long answer appears below:
The State of New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the agency ultimately responsible for managing the motor vehicle laws in the state, including this one. As such, they figured doctors might need help with these subsection 7 exemptions, so they came up with form C-58 “…as an aid to physicians in making their determinations in issuing certifications regarding physically disabling conditions that prevent an individual’s appropriate restraint…” No “plain language” there! What that means is, form C-58 was supposed to guide doctors in deciding whether (and how) to issue certifications pursuant to subsection 7. So, it contains lots of cool suggestions, like how to handle temporary medical conditions (maybe a 6-month review would help) or how to tell when short stature might interfere with appropriate seat belt use (patients who are 5’ tall or less and complain of discomfort from ill-fitting seat belts might be at risk), and other handy hints, including options that might make certifications unnecessary.
There is a slight problem, though. “The C-58 form is neither a statute nor a regulation, and it does not have the force of law.” This makes it rather useless, because “…it is not binding (since it does not have the force of law) upon physicians, law enforcement, or the judiciary.” Furthermore, “…in a cause in which an individual is charged with a VTL section 1229-c violation and raises a medical exemption defense, it is ultimately for the court to determine whether the statutory exemption applies (i.e., whether the individual has a physically disabling condition as described in VTL section 1229-c(7), as well as the required physician’s certification.”
Translated into you-and-me language, this means that if your doctor diagnoses you with a medical condition that interferes with safe use of a seat belt, certifies same in writing along with the reasons therefore, and you actually have the condition your doctor says you have, YOU are exempt from wearing a seat belt, regardless of any C-58 suggestions and/or what anybody tells you. So, if Officer Friendly tries to meet some kind of ticket quota by dragging your ass to court on a VTL 1229c-3 violation, all you have to do is comply with subsection 7. That means your doctor has 1) signed a certification that states 2) the medical condition (“handicap”) you have and 3) the reason(s) why said condition makes seat belt use inappropriate. The certification is not required to predate Officer Friendly’s ticket. It is not required to match the date on Officer Friendly’s ticket. In fact, it is not required to be dated at all! The certification is not required to be written on prescription paper or even letterhead. You are not required to carry it with you at all times or even at any time. You are not required to present it to Officer Friendly upon demand. But you are required to present it to the court, if that is where you end up, because the court must examine it to “determine whether the statutory exemption applies.” And it is legally bound to accept the certification as a valid affirmative defense as long as it is 1) signed by a physician, 2) you have the medical condition it says you have, and 3) it identifies the medical condition and the reasons why it renders seat belt use inappropriate. Period. That’s all, folks. Nothing more and nothing less. Anything else is statutorily irrelevant hogwash.
Unfortunately, it’s the hogwash that turns the “slight problem” of form C-58 into a nightmare, because none of it is specified in subsection 7, which is in fact the sole “force of law” upon which the court must “determine whether the statutory exemption applies.” However, all of it is suggested in (but not mandated by) form C-58, which is a set of nonbinding guidelines for physicians that has nothing to do with either the price of beans or your court case because it “does not have the force of law.” So, neither you nor I have any reason to seek out form C-58 or comply with it, in part or in full, even though compliance may or may not spare you (it didn’t spare me, just sayin’) the inconvenience of appearing before His Dumb-Ass Honor and his Tree-Trunk-Legged Prosecutor, both of whom (IMHO and as a direct result of their own behavior and/or physique) earned these sobriquets by acting in utter ignorance of the “force of law” and instead thought it might be a good idea to “determine whether the statutory exemption applies” by inventing rogue law of their own. Their wrongful actions, whether they knew it or not, relied wholly upon the nonbinding suggestions found in form C-58 (which were bolstered post-verdict by His Honorable But Ludicrous Manipulation of subsection 5, but that’s a story best left alone…). In such cases, both you and I have every right to appeal the bogus conviction resulting therefrom, which I did once I re-read NY VTL 1229C (and got my next car insurance bill, because it was nearly twice as high as it was before and will remain so for the next 5 years). Be advised, though, that in so doing someone named “Rick” (whoever THAT is) will make sure you are the laughing stock of both the appeals court and the sheriffs you hire to serve your papers upon said court, not to mention the entire district attorney’s office, which gets real cranky when they have to reassign a couple of assistants from more important tasks to defend their colleague, who lied about the evidence in a measly little seat belt case, as well as the judge, who not only based the guilty verdict upon the nonissue created thereby but also invented “applicable law” to support it and then compounded these errors by ordering the defendant pro se from the courtroom (to be “measured”) so he could meet with the prosecutor ex parte to discuss strategy.
Actually, no one but me (see below) has to worry about DMV form C-58 anymore because its nonbinding suggestions no longer conflict with the statutory requirements of subsection 7. That’s because once I contacted the DMV and told them how This Honorable(?) Court had trumped subsection 7 with its ignorant misuse of form C-58, the form was withdrawn: “As a result of your letter, the C-58 is being reviewed and possible revisions of the form to improve its clarity and accuracy [are] being considered.” Which means that it is no longer available. You can read about it in the safety brochure the DMV hands out to people renewing their driver’s license, but you won’t ever see it. You can’t download it from the Internet. You can’t even get a copy if you go to the DMV yourself and demand one (in fact, if you refuse to leave until they give you a copy, you’ll probably just end up discussing the matter with Officer Friendly, and I can’t think of anyone who wants to do that). For all intents and purposes, DMV form C-58 is dead and can never interfere with a valid subsection 7 affirmative defense again! (see? I told you you’d thank me later!)…
…unless, of course, you are me, in which case you discover that, modified by a little creative and self-serving rephrasing, the ADA who was finally assigned to your appeal continues to rely upon all that form C-58 hogwash in his Memorandum of Law. One can only hope that the appeals court judge is smart enough, when making his decision, to ignore it in favor of the statutorily relevant facts presented to him, including those raised in the appellant’s Memorandum, even though she IS pro se…
P.S. I also told the DMV about all that judicial rolled-up paper-shaking and epithet-bellowing (see “Wayne County and the Justice Court — Not Always a Good Combination” here on this blog) and was offered this reassuring response: “I would take this opportunity to note that a violation of VTL section 1229-c is not a crime…” So, don’t believe His Dumb-Ass Honor when he tells you it is.