By Logan Quirk
Seat belts are the most important piece of safety equipment on almost every kind of vehicle. The reason states have seat belt laws in place is that they save lives and prevent injuries. Granted, all states don’t have the same laws regarding seat belt use. But every state in the country has some degree of mandatory seat belt use law except New Hampshire. Some laws apply only to occupants in the front seat, while those in 29 states and the District of Columbia include occupants in the rear seat too.
Seat belt laws vary from state-to-state. Nearly all are either primary or secondary. Primary states mean that law enforcement officers can stop you and write you a ticket for a seat belt offense. In secondary states, the driver must first be pulled over for a separate offense. Every state has laws related to child restraints. When vehicle accidents occur, the youngest ones are at the greatest risk of injury.
The laws related to seat belt use also come down to liability. In some states, the driver is held legally responsible for making passengers buckle up. If an accident occurs in any state where seat belts caused the individual’s injuries to be worse or fatal, the driver could be held liable for their injuries too.
The best practice is for anyone to buckle up every time they drive or are a passenger in a vehicle. Statistics in every state prove time and time again that seat belts save lives. They prevent you from getting thrown from the vehicle or crashing against an object or another person. Some statistics to consider…
- Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people aged 1 to 54
- A total of 23,714 drivers and passengers died in vehicle crashes in 2016
- More than half of those fatalities who were aged 13 to 19 and between 20 and 44 years of age were not using their seat belts at the time of the crash
- Over 2.6 million drivers and passengers from car crashes were treated in the emergency room during 2016
Still, the only question some drivers have is “Do I have to buckle up?” Check the laws in your state to learn more about your responsibility to buckle up.
Seat Belt Laws:
Arizona requires all front-seat occupants to be restrained in a properly fitted seat belt. Passengers under 16 years of age in the front or back must wear a seat belt. The law only applies to passengers in vehicles manufactured in 1972 or newer and which carry 10 or fewer passengers. Not wearing a seat belt is a secondary offense, meaning police can’t stop you for not wearing a seat belt.
Children under 15 are required to buckle up in either the front or back seat. Younger children must ride in appropriate child safety restraints until they reach 6 years of age or 60 pounds. Arkansas is a primary seat belt state, meaning that all front seat passengers must always buckle up and police can stop them if they don’t.
California has strong seat belt laws based on extensive proof that seat belts save lives. The state’s extensive highways and high volumes of traffic make wearing a seat belt a necessity. Everyone aged 16 years and older must wear an approved seat belt. Those under the age of 16 must use the appropriate car seat or other required seats. Every driver and passenger must wear a lower belt that crosses their hips or upper thighs. The upper seat belt must also be worn across the front chest. Each passenger is responsible for buckling up but the driver is also responsible for seeing that each passenger buckles up. Not only can law enforcement give you a ticket for not wearing a seat belt, but they can also cite you for wearing it improperly.
In Colorado, the driver and seat passengers must wear a seat belt. Law enforcement can’t pull you over strictly for not wearing a seat belt. However, the state’s child passenger safety law allows them to pull drivers over if a child passenger isn’t adequately restrained.
Everyone riding in the front seat must wear a seat belt, along with rear-seat passengers aged 4 to 16 years. If a driver or any passenger doesn’t buckle up, the driver pays the fine. But only if the driver is pulled over for another offense.
Delaware requires anyone riding in the front seat to wear a seat belt or child restraint system. Those under the age of 16 must be restrained in any place in the vehicle.
According to Florida seat belt laws, passengers in the front seat must wear a seat belt in any car manufactured since 1968. Anyone under the age of 18 years must either wear a seat belt or use a child restraint. Police must have a separate reason for stopping a vehicle before ticketing them for not wearing a seat belt.
In Georgia, not wearing a seat belt is a primary offense. Drivers and passengers aged 18 years and older in the front seat and those aged 8 to 17 in any seats must wear a seat belt. Police officers can stop and issue tickets for not buckling up. Child restraint laws apply to those under 8 years of age.
Hawaii’s universal seat belt laws make it mandatory for all passengers and the driver to buckle up. The cost of tickets varies from $102 to $112. Drivers who violate the child restraint laws must attend a four-hour safety class and pay a fine of $100 to $500. Hawaii has a primary seat belt law.
Idaho law requires everyone in a vehicle to buckle up. Adult drivers are held liable for passengers under the age of 18 who aren’t properly restrained. Failing to wear a seat belt is a secondary offense.
All passengers in the back and front seats aged 8 years and older are required to wear safety belts, even if the vehicle has airbags. Those under the age of 8 must be secured in an appropriate child restraint system. Illinois has a primary seat belt law.
Indiana seat belt laws vary somewhat from those of other states. All occupants of a vehicle must wear a seat belt while the car is in forward motion. Like other states, the child restraint laws are stricter. Indiana has a primary seat belt law.
In Iowa, children under the age of 6 years must be secured in a safety seat or booster seat. Those between ages 6 and 11 years must be secured by either a child restraint system or a safety belt. Children under the age of 18 years old are required to wear a seat belt. The primary law allows police officers to pull over and ticket the driver if any adult or child isn’t properly restrained.
In Kansas, law enforcement officers can stop and ticket drivers for front-seat passengers not wearing a seat belt. The law applies to any passenger under the age of 18. Although Kansas has a primary seat belt law, passengers in the back seat can only be cited if the driver is pulled over for something else.
All passengers who aren’t covered by child-restraint laws must wear seat belts unless they have a physician’s letter. Child-restraint laws require children under the age of 7 years and between 40 and 50 inches tall to use a booster seat. In 2014, Governor Steve Beshear called for stronger child-restrain laws. He wanted the requirements raised to include children to 9 years of age and 57 inches tall, citing improved safety. A recent study in the state showed that 70% of 142 children hurt were 8 or 9 years old. To date, the seat belt laws haven’t been updated to reflect this change.
In Louisiana, every driver of a car, van, or truck with a gross weight of ten thousand pounds or less must have a safety belt on whenever the vehicle is in forward motion. This law only applies to those vehicles manufactured on January 1, 1981, or later. Exceptions include US Postal Service carriers, farm vehicles within five miles of its place of principal use, or those vehicles operated by a newspaper delivery person. In cases where seat belt use is mandated, law enforcement can pull drivers over for that offense.
Maine adopted a new primary seat belt law in September of 2007. The law specifies that persons aged 18 years or older who are a driver or passenger must be secured in a seat belt. The state also has and enforces child-restraint laws for all children riding in any vehicle.
All passengers in vehicles must wear a seat belt in Maryland, including those over the age of 16 sitting in the rear seat. Maryland is a primary state regarding passengers under the age of 16. The state observes secondary laws for backseat passengers over 16. That means a police officer can pull you over for the primary offense and then ticket you for both the primary and secondary offenses.
The state seat belt laws require anyone age 13 and older to wear seat belts. Massachusetts does have some exceptions to the rule. Those drivers or passengers who have proof from a physician of a disability or medical condition that makes wearing a seat belt dangerous or impossible don’t have to comply. Also, anyone in vehicles made prior to July of 1966, some commercial vehicles, emergency vehicle passengers, and postal workers on duty are exempt.
Michigan has a primary seat belt law, requiring passengers aged 8 to 15 to buckle up anywhere in the vehicle. Drivers and passengers in the front must buckle up.
Minnesota is another primary seat belt state that requires drivers and all passengers to buckle up or have the appropriate child restraint. They must also be worn correctly or the driver can be fined for more than $100 for the first offense.
Mississippi introduced a new seat belt law in 2017 that requires everyone in a car, truck, or SUV to buckle up. Also included in the new law is a ban from anyone riding in the bed of pickup trucks.
Missouri requires all drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts. In vehicles driven by drivers with an intermediate driver license, all passengers front and back must buckle up.
Montana’s secondary seat belt law requires the use of seat belts by drivers and all passengers in the vehicle. The secondary seat belt law does exclude some people who are unable to use seat belts due to medical conditions. During 2009, 171 occupants lost their lives in crashes in the state, all involving passenger vehicles. More than 62 percent failed to wear their seat belts or wore them incorrectly.
Drivers and front seat passengers must buckle up with a seat belt or age-appropriate child safety seat. If the driver has a provisional operator’s permit or school permit, all passengers must buckle up. Nebraska has a secondary seat belt law.
Both front and rear seat occupants are required to wear seat belts or be restrained in an approved child restraint system All vehicles from 1968 on must be equipped with lap belts. Those from 1970 and later must be equipped with both lap belts and shoulder belts for the front seats. Nevada is a secondary seat belt law state.
New Hampshire is the only state without a primary or secondary seat belt law for adults. They do have a primary child passenger safety law covering drivers and passengers under the age of 18.
New Jersey seat belt laws apply to passenger vehicles including vans, pickup trucks, and SUV’s that are required to be equipped with seat belts. All passengers 8-years-old and older or who are at least 57 inches tall must wear seat belts. The state also makes the driver responsible for seat belt use by all occupants.
Anyone riding in a vehicle that was manufactured with seat belts must wear them while the vehicle is in motion. New Mexico is a primary state which fines offenders and sometimes assesses points on their driver’s license for offenses.
All front seat passengers must wear seat belts. Children under the age of 16 must wear seat belts in the back seat. Those under age four must ride in child safety seats. New York is a primary state.
This primary state requires all drivers and passengers aged 16 and older to buckle up. The law includes all vehicles required by federal law to have seat belts.
All drivers and passengers in the front seat must wear a properly fastened seat belt. Occupants under the age of 18 must be properly restrained in the front or rear seats. North Dakota is a secondary state.
Another secondary state, Ohio requires drivers and front seat passengers age 15 and older to buckle up. Those between the ages of 8 and 14 must buckle up in the front or rear.
Oklahoma’s mandatory seat belt laws mean you can get pulled over if you don’t have on your seat belt. Every occupant in the front seat must always wear a seat belt. The driver is solely responsible for securing any passenger under the age of 12.
Oregon is a primary seat belt state which requires drivers to buckle up. Children under the age of 16 must also be secured with a child safety system, safety belt, or safety harness.
Drivers and passengers in the front seat of a car must buckle up. Any passenger aged under 8 to 18 years must wear a seat belt at all times in both seats. The primary seat belt state law fines drivers according to the age of the person to whom the offense applies.
Rhode Island is a primary state which requires the driver to wear a safety belt and/or shoulder harness system while the vehicle is in motion. Passengers 8 years or older in the front or rear seat must wear an appropriate child restraint system.
South Carolina has a primary safety belt enforcement law allowing an officer to stop a driver if they have a clear and unobstructed view of the driver or another occupant who isn’t buckled up.
Prior to 1994, South Dakota had one of the lowest safety belt usage rates in the country with only 26% front seat passenger compliance. This secondary law state now has a usage rate of 88%. The state requires drivers and passengers in the front seat to wear a properly fitted restraint while the vehicle is in a forward motion. The driver is responsible for making sure passengers between the ages of 5 and 18 are fastened.
Tennessee is a primary safety belt state, requiring drivers to wear safety belts at all times while a vehicle is in operation. Front seat passengers must also wear a seat belt that is properly fastened. Children under the age of 18 must buckle up in all seating positions.
Texas seat belt laws require all drivers and passengers to wear a safety belt. Like everything in Texas, the fines are bigger, ranging from $25 to $250, in addition to court costs. As a primary seat belt state, law enforcement can pull you over for a seat belt offense alone.
All vehicle occupants must wear seat belts. Children aged 8 and under must have a proper car seat or booster seat. Utah became a primary seat belt state in 2015.
Vermont has a primary seat belt law for all occupants under the age of 18. A secondary law applies to drivers and passengers over the age of 18.
Virginia law requires everyone in the front seat or rear seat to be properly restrained, regardless of age. Those under 18 must have the appropriate child restraint. Virginia is a secondary seat belt law state which holds drivers accountable for buckling their passengers.
Drivers and passengers over the age of 16 must wear seat belts. Drivers are responsible for ensuring passengers under the age of 16 wear seat belts or are fastened with child-restraint devices. A doctor’s note is required for exceptions.
West Virginia is a primary seat belt state that requires all drivers and passengers in any seat to wear a seat belt. Some exceptions are made for those with physical handicaps.
Primary seat belt laws allow Wisconsin law enforcement to stop and ticket drivers if they or any passengers over the age of 4 years aren’t buckled up. Three-point seat belts are required. Children under 4 must be restrained with an appropriate child safety restraint.
In Wyoming, all passengers 9 years old and older must wear a seat belt while driving or riding in a moving vehicle. Children 8 years old and under must wear the appropriate child restraint. Drivers are required to make children under the age of 12 years buckle up. The state has secondary seat belt laws. The maximum fine is $10, and when stopped for another offense, the other charges can be dropped by $10. Many people, including state senator Mike Massie, wonder if this practice actually encourages people to buckle up.
Wearing the proper child restraint is always mandatory. Buckling up even when the seat belt laws in your state don’t require it will help protect you and everyone else. It could also prevent you from needing a personal injury attorney after a crash.
If you are injured in a car accident, or you want to know more about liability, contact Quirk Law Group.