ORLANDO, Fla. - Rural mail carriers driving their personal vehicles without a seat belt while delivering the mail are violating Florida's seat belt law.
Sgt. Kim Montes, an 18-year-veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol, says the agency's legal department reviewed the unorthodox style of mail delivery and found mail carriers are not exempt in either Florida or Federal statutes from wearing a seat belt while "performing their duties."
The review was prompted by a three week investigation by Local 6.
Local 6 cameras caught carriers in Orange County neighborhoods driving from the passenger seat with one hand on the wheel and one foot straddled across the console to handle the brake and accelerator.
The drivers were never wearing seat belts.
Jose Alberto Ucles of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the mail drivers have no federal immunity to the state's seat belt law.
"If there is no exemption in Florida for postal workers, then they must abide by the state Law," he said.
A spokesperson for the USPS regional office in Tampa says they have received questions about the rural carriers delivery style before.
According to the regional office, 43,000 rural carrier mail routes are driven in vehicles owned by the carriers and 65 percent have the steering wheel on the left side.
The policy in the USPS employee handbook gives the option of driving from the passenger seat to the individual employees.
The USPS regional office issued this statement: "If rural carriers deem it safe-they may legally drive without using a seat belt and /or without being positioned directly behind the steering wheel."
In 46 states that policy is legal because seat belt exemptions are in place for mail carriers.
Mississippi specifically provides an exemption for mail carriers using their "personal vehicles" to deliver the mail.
But under Florida's seat belt law only trash collection, newspaper delivery or a medical condition that makes it dangerous for the driver to wear the seat belt have exemptions in place.
Utah, New Hampshire and Hawaii also provide no seat belt exemptions for postal carriers.
Montes says law enforcement agencies will handle the violations as any other case because there is no immunity for postal workers.
"An officer would have to see the violation and then it's up to the officer's discretion to take enforcement action," she said.
If you have seen mail carriers delivering mail from the passenger seat in a left handed vehicle contact Mike Holfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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