Mandatory Seat Belt Laws
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle accidents are a major cause of death for both males and females from birth to 54 years of age. More than half of all fatal injuries in auto accidents are due to an unrestrained driver or passenger being ejected from the vehicle.
Seat Belt Law Exemptions
Except for New Hampshire, which requires seat belt use only by anyone under the age of 18, every state has some type of seat belt law. However, there are certain exemptions that may apply even in those states with strict mandatory seat belt use laws.
- Some states allow passengers to ride in the cargo area or “bed” of a pickup truck without any type of restraint, including seat belts.
- Other exemptions may apply to vehicles that are designed for “off road” use.
- Vehicles that are considered “classics” where seat belts were not originally installed.
- Custom vehicles that are on display at car shows.
Existing seat belt laws may be summarized as follows:
Drivers must be restrained by seat belts unless they are covered by an exemption similar to those listed in the preceding paragraph. The majority of traffic citations issued for seat belt law violations are to drivers who were not wearing a seat belt.
Every state and territory has some type of child restraint law. While there is variation from state to state in the types of restraint and the age at which a “child” becomes an “adult,” infants and toddlers are usually required to be secured in child safety seats and older children must be restrained by seat belts.
- Front Seat Passengers
Front seat passengers are generally subject to the same seat belt requirements as the driver. Child passengers must be restrained by child seats until they reach the state traffic law definition of an adult.
- Backseat Passengers
Laws regarding the restraint of back seat passengers vary considerably between the individual states. In general, if a seat belt was installed in the back seat by an automobile’s manufacturer, use of seat belts by backseat passengers should be considered mandatory.
Seat Belts and Law Enforcement
Enforcement of seat belt laws is a matter that is left to the individual states. Such enforcement can be classified as either primary orsecondary enforcement.
- In primary enforcement, a police officer may stop a vehicle and issue a traffic offense ticket to the driver for the sole reason that the occupants of a vehicle are not using seat belts or are not otherwise properly restrained. It has been reported that states with primary enforcement of seat belt laws have a lower fatality/serious injury rate per passenger mile than those with less strict enforcement.
2. Secondary enforcement allows a police officer to issue a seat belt ticket only if a traffic stop is made for another legitimate reason. As an example, if an officer stops a vehicle for making an improper turn and observes an occupant who is not wearing a seatbelt the officer may issue a traffic citation. However, an officer may not stop a vehicle for the sole reason that an occupant appears to be improperly restrained.
In summary, even in those states with less strict enforcement laws or policies the mandatory use of seat belts is credited with reducing the number or fatal or serious automobile accident injuries. Although some may balk at mandatory seat belt laws as being an intrusion on the rights of the individual, the reduction in the number of accidental deaths and injuries is sufficient to override such concerns.
However, if you’ve been injured in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, you may have a case. Talk to a car accident lawyer relies on for your