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35-year trucker Joe Bartlette got a seatbelt ticket — until this video got it thrown out

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Updated Mar 30, 2019
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There’s several ways to contest a ticket received at the roadside, chief and perhaps most effective among them just having video or other evidence that clearly refutes whatever the officer is claiming. In the case of the video above, it’s exactly what Decker Truck Line driver Joe Bartlette had in the wake of a ticket he got for a seat-belt violation after a Michigan officer pulled him for a Level 3 driver inspection.

While a seat-belt violation isn’t exactly the most serious infraction one can imagine, with it comes severity points in the Unsafe Driving category of the CSA Safety Measurement System assessed to Barlette’s carrier and a blemish on his own record in what’s been an otherwise remarkably unblemished 35-year trucking career. The principal of the thing motivated him to, immediately after being issued the ticket, contact Decker in order to potentially retrieve video leading into the stop, which you can see above.

The video clearly shows Bartlette passing the officer (camped out in the median) at about the 12-second mark — he’s definitely wearing his seatbelt, as the interior-cam view shows. Further clips detail the interactions between Bartlette and the officer, who claimed he “didn’t see the seatbelt” in use when the trucker passed.

“I saw the officer’s car move when I passed him but would have had no thought of hitting the button as I was driving by,” Bartlette says, referring to the manual-capture button by which operators can store clips from their on-board cameras not triggered by prefigured settings. The manual-capture stores the 10 seconds before and after the button is pushed. Hence the company had to work with SmartDrive to retrieve the footage from its “extended recording” capability, which offers the ability to retrieve specific moments.

The videos all proved the officer wrong, and when Bartlette received his court date he queried the court to figure out the best format in which to bring the evidence, which he’d stored on his phone, on his date of appearance. “We put it on a disk,” he says, and that “was pretty much all we needed. I feel sorry for the people that don’t have this,” referring to the ability to retrieve video evidence in such cases.

Bartlette, based in Grandville, Mich., had to take a day off to travel 2.5 to 3 hours to appear in a court in the jurisdiction, a small town east of Jackson, Mich., to present the evidence, but ultimately it was “time well wasted,” he says. “It was very self-satisfying to be with the officer in a court and be able to go through and show that, yes, I was innocent. I’ve got a clean record, and I’d like to keep it that way after this many years on the roads.”

Says Decker Truck Line Vice President of Safety Rick George, who’s dealt with many similar incidents since the company began installing the SmartDrive dual-view cameras in Decker’s approximately 700 trucks pulling flatbed and reefer trailers, some dry vans too: “When something like this happens when there’s overwhelming evidence” exonerating the driver, sometimes “we’ll send it to the county attorney and have him drop the charges – it doesn’t always work, but often it does.”

In this case, Bartlette was so close to home, seeing it through on his own felt right, he says.

George and company followed by sending copies of the dismissal paper through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s DataQs violation-challenge program to have it removed from the federal violation records, a fairly simple process for such adjudicated citations, George adds.

These kinds of situations — likewise proof in accidents to avoid expensive he-said, she-said battles in litigation — have more than paid for the fleetwide installation of the cameras a year and a half after the company began installing them, Rick George says.

For truckers like Bartlette, too, these kinds of experiences and the ability to see more clearly some of the “bad habits,” he says, that can develop over time, have changed some minds about what was initially viewed as an unwelcome intrusion.

“My worst one was getting too close before I start to pass,” Bartlette says. “That’s one I’m really working on, to be a little more patient with the passing – I didn’t realize I  was doing it until it got pointed out to me,” until he could see it on a large screen during video-review sessions, without the pressures of the day-to-day on the road staring him in the face.

“I’m a big advocate of having that camera,” he adds.

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