By Chris Purdy - The Canadian Press
SASKATOON — When Steve Simonar was pulled over by police in the past, he says officers would quickly question why he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt while behind the wheel.
Then they realized why. He has no arms.
He says the surprised officers usually looked him over and let him off with “have a nice day.”
“Nobody ever gave me a seatbelt ticket because, you know, I can’t wear one. I can’t put it on,” Simonar explained Wednesday.
The owner of a Saskatoon construction company is fighting his first seatbelt ticket, a $175-fine issued last week during a city traffic blitz. Simonar said he was angry and hurt by the fine and plans to file a complaint with Saskatoon police. He wants the officer who approved the ticket to rip it up and apologize.
“I’m a rare bird ... and that’s what kind of makes this whole thing stupid,” he said. “I’m the exception to the rule and it has to be treated that way.”
Back in 1985, Simonar had finished a summer day of sailing on Big Shell Lake, north of Saskatoon, with two of his young children and a friend. The kids were on the beach and the men were pulling the boat onto shore when its mast hit a power line.
Simonar said his buddy died instantly and he was rushed to hospital. Doctors were unable to save his arms, which had burned from the inside out. They amputated both limbs to his shoulders.
The 55-year-old, who is married and now has four children, needs help each day doing most things, such as getting dressed and eating. But he can drive on his own.
He has had many vehicles modified over the years so he can drive with his feet. His left foot turns a small steering wheel near the floor and his right foot works the gas and brake pedals. He also uses his feet to open the door of his pickup truck and turn the key in the ignition.
Simonar said shortly after he lost his arms, he passed a driving test using his feet. And Saskatchewan Government Insurance has approved all of his modified vehicles. He also used to carry a doctor’s note explaining the obvious: he can’t put on a seatbelt. He didn’t know the rules had changed requiring him to apply to SGI for a medical exemption.
SGI spokeswoman Kellie Brinkworth said doctors were previously allowed to grant the exemptions. In 2000, legislation changed requiring approval from SGI with a doctor’s note.
“At that time, we sent a letter to every person with an existing exemption letting them know about the change and what would be required to maintain their exemption,” Brinkworth said. Six permanent seatbelt exemptions were approved in the province last year, she said.
Simonar said he didn’t know about the requirement until police pulled him over last Thursday during the checkstop.
An RCMP officer first walked up to his window and then called over a supervising city police officer. Simonar said the Mountie didn’t want to issue the ticket but the city constable was adamant.
“He said, ’Well, if you can’t wear a seatbelt, then you shouldn’t be driving.’
“It just blew me away.”
Saskatoon police spokeswoman Alyson Edwards said the force is concerned for the man’s safety and the safety of the public.
“Wearing a seatbelt is the law. We realize there are people who have different needs and they can apply and be granted medical exemptions. And in those cases we would not write tickets, but this gentleman did not have that.”
Edwards said the officer gave Simonar information on how to apply for a seatbelt exemption. The constable and the staff sergeant in charge of the Saskatoon police traffic unit then met with Simonar on Wednesday to explain why they issued the ticket. And how they legally can’t withdraw it.
“The staff sergeant certainly wanted to try and bring about some understanding on both sides and get our point across,” she said. “We had to issue a ticket to someone who we really didn’t want to issue a ticket to ... but we can’t just simply look away and say, ’drive on.”’
Simonar described the meeting as a waste of time. The officer who ordered the ticket was firm and told him all drivers need to be treated the same.
“I told him, ’You think this is over? This is so far from over. I still maintain you’re going to rip this ticket up and you’re going to give me an apology, even if you don’t like it.’
“He just sat there so smug and ignorant and arrogant, just rolling his eyes.”
Simonar said he is already in the process of applying for a medical exemption. And, since police probably won’t get rid of the ticket, he’ll be fighting it in traffic court.
He earlier fought a parking fine in court, arguing he was unable to plug coins in the meter, he said. He lost. He said the prosecutor told the judge Simonar should have been able to use his teeth to put in some change.