Better Call Glew: Driving While Beltless!

Is it true the police can arrest you for not wearing your seatbelt or if you drive without your ID?

The sad and alarming answer to both questions is yes. According to the United States Supreme Court in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, an officer who has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, even a minor traffic violation, has the authority to arrest.

What was the offence in question in that case?

Driving without a seatbelt, a misdemeanor punishable only by fine in Texas, the state the case arose out of. Taking it a step further, the California Court of Appeals in People v. McKay, stated that so long as an officer has probable cause to believe that an individual has committed an infraction, the officer has the authority to arrest that individual for the commission of the infraction.

What crime did the defendant commit in McKay? Riding a bicycle in the wrong direction on a residential street. The story gets worse for Mr. McKay, as he was searched incident to arrest, and was found to have methamphetamine in his possession, which illustrates just how quickly encounters with law enforcement can spiral out of control. That means if an officer decides to arrest you for an infraction, such as not wearing a seatbelt, you are subject to a search.

With regard to the question of whether the police can arrest you if you get pulled over and have no identification, the answer, again, is yes. According to the California Supreme Court, an officer has the authority to arrest, if a subject cannot produce adequate identification, pursuant to Vehicle Code section 40302.

Making matters worse, when a subject cannot produce valid identification, a police officer can conduct a limited warrantless search of the interior of the subject's vehicle, where documentation would ordinarily be kept. That means anything you may have hidden in your glove box or center console, will almost certainly be discovered by law enforcement. Further, as I stated above, if you are arrested, you will be subject to a search incident to arrest. As always, it's better to be safe than sorry, and carry your ID at all times.

Send all questions to And remember, Better Call Glew!

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