Seat belt legislation in the United States
Most seat belt legislation in the United States is left to the states. However, the first seat belt law was a federal law, Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, which took effect on January 1, 1968, that required all vehicles (except buses) to be fitted with seat belts in all designated seating positions. This law has since been modified to require three-point seat belts in outboard seating positions, and finally three-point seat belts in all seating positions. Initially, seat belt use was not compulsory. New York was the first state to pass a law which required vehicle occupants to wear seat belts, a law that came into effect on December 1, 1984.
U.S. seatbelt legislation may be subject to primary enforcement or secondary enforcement. Primary enforcement allows a police officer to stop and ticket a driver if he observes a violation. Secondary enforcement means that a police officer may only stop or cite a driver for a seatbelt violation if the driver committed another primary violation (such as speeding, running a stop sign, etc.) at the same time. New Hampshire is the only U.S. state that does not by law require adult drivers to wear safety belts while operating a motor vehicle.
The laws by state
This table contains a brief summary of all seatbelt laws in the United States. This list includes only seatbelt laws, which often do not themselves apply to children; however, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have separate child restraint laws. Keep in mind these fines are the base fines only. In many cases considerable extra fees such as the head injury fund and court security fees can mark up the fine to almost five times as much in some cases. These are also "first offense" fines; a subsequent offense may be much higher.
|State||Type of law||Date of first law||Who is covered||Base fine before fees||Usage|
|Alabama||Primary Enforcement||July 18, 1991||Age 15+ in front seats||$25||91.4%|
|Alaska||Primary Enforcement||September 12, 1990||Age 16+ in all seats||$15 ($25 actual)||86.8%|
|Arizona||Secondary Enforcement||January 1, 1991||Age 5+ in front seats; Age 5–15 in all seats||$10 ($37.20 actual)||81.8%|
|Arkansas||Primary Enforcement||July 15, 1991||Age 15+ in front seats||$25||78.3%|
|California||Primary Enforcement||January 1, 1986||Age 6+ in all seats||$20 ($88 actual) $50 second offense ($190 actual)||96.2%|
|Colorado||Secondary Enforcement 4||July 1, 1987||All front seats; under 16 all seats||$71||82.9%|
|Connecticut||Primary Enforcement||January 1, 1986||Age 7+ in front seats||$92||88.2%|
|Delaware||Primary Enforcement||January 1, 1992||Age 16+ in all seats||$25||90.7%|
|District of Columbia||Primary Enforcement||December 12, 1985||Age 16+ in all seats||$502||92.3%|
|Florida||Primary Enforcement||July 1, 1986||6+ years in front seat; 6 through 17 years in all seats||$30 ($116 actual)||87.4%|
|Georgia||Primary Enforcement||September 1, 1988||Age 6–17 in all seats; Age 18+ in front seats||$15||89.6%|
|Hawaii||Primary Enforcement||December 16, 1985||Age 8–17 in all seats; Age 18+ in front seat||$45 ($92 actual)||97.6%|
|Idaho||Secondary Enforcement||July 1, 1986||Age 7+ in all seats||$10 ($51.50 actual)||77.9%|
|Illinois||Primary Enforcement||January 1, 1988||Age 16+ in all seats||$25 ($60 actual or $95 if choosing traffic school)||92.6%|
|Indiana||Primary Enforcement||July 1, 1987||Age 16+ in all seats||$25||92.4%|
|Iowa||Primary Enforcement||July 1, 1986||Age 11+ in front seats||$50 ($127.50 actual)||93.1%|
|Kansas||Primary Enforcement1||July 1, 1986||Age 14–17 in all seats; age 18+ in front seat||$30||81.8%|
|Kentucky||Primary Enforcement||July 15, 1994||More than 40 in. tall in all seats||$25||80.3%|
|Louisiana||Primary Enforcement||July 1, 1986||Age 13+ in front seats||$25||75.9%|
|Maine||Primary Enforcement||December 26, 1995||Age 18+ in all seats||$70 1st offense, $160 second up to $310 for a 3rd offense||82.0%|
|Maryland||Primary Enforcement||July 1, 1986||Age 16+ in front seats||$83||94.7%|
|Massachusetts||Secondary Enforcement||February 1, 1994||Age 13+ in all seats ||$25||73.7%|
|Michigan||Primary Enforcement||July 1, 1985||Age 4+ in front seats; Age 4–15 in all seats||$25 ($65 actual)||95.2%|
|Minnesota||Primary Enforcement||August 1, 1986||Anyone not covered by child passenger safety law in all seats||$25 + $75 fee||92.3%|
|Mississippi||Primary Enforcement||July 1, 1994||Age 4–7 in all seats; Age 8+ in front seat||$25||81.0%|
|Missouri||Secondary Enforcement||September 28, 1985||Age 16+ in front seats||$10||76.0%|
|Montana||Secondary Enforcement||October 1, 1987||Age 6+ in all seats||$20||78.9%|
|Nebraska||Secondary Enforcement||January 1, 1993||Age 18+ in all seats||$25||84.1%|
|Nevada||Secondary Enforcement||July 1, 1987||Age 6+ in all seats||$25||93.2%|
|New Hampshire||Primary for children only||No law||Age 17 and under in all seats||$50||72.2%|
|New Jersey||Primary Enforcement1||March 1, 1985||Driver & all passengers||$50 per person||93.7%|
|New Mexico||Primary Enforcement||January 1, 1986||Age 18+ in all seats||$252||89.8%|
|New York||Primary Enforcement||December 1, 1984||Age 16+ in front seats||$50 ($135 Actual after surcharges)||89.8%|
|North Carolina||Primary Enforcement1||October 1, 1985||Age 16+ in all seats||$25 ($161 Actual after court costs)||89.7%|
|North Dakota||Secondary Enforcement||July 14, 1994||Age 18+ in front seats||$20 (actual $100.50)||74.8%|
|Ohio||Secondary Enforcement||May 6, 1986||Age 15+ in front seat; 4–14 in all seats||$30||83.8%|
|Oklahoma||Primary Enforcement||February 1, 1987||Age 13+ in front seats||$20||85.9%|
|Oregon||Primary Enforcement||December 7, 1990||Age 16+ in all seats||$90||97.0%|
|Pennsylvania||Secondary Enforcement||November 23, 1987||Age 8+ in front seats||$10||86.0%|
|Rhode Island||Primary Enforcement||June 18, 1991||Age 13+ in all seats||$75||78.0%|
|South Carolina||Primary Enforcement||July 1, 1989||Age 6+ in all seats||$25||85.4%|
|South Dakota||Secondary Enforcement||January 1, 1995||Age 18+ in front seats||$20||74.5%|
|Tennessee||Primary Enforcement||April 21, 1986||Age 16+ in front seats||$50||87.1%|
|Texas||Primary Enforcement||September 1, 1985||Age 8+ in all seats (under 15 not liable)||$50||93.8%|
|Utah||Secondary Enforcement||April 28, 1986||Age 16+ in all seats||$45||89.0%|
|Vermont||Secondary Enforcement||January 1, 1994||Age 16+ in all seats||$25||85.2%|
|Virginia||Secondary Enforcement 4||January 1, 1988||Age 18+ in front seats||$25||80.5%|
|Washington||Primary Enforcement||June 11, 1986||Age 16+ in all seats||$124||97.6%|
|West Virginia||Primary Enforcement||September 1, 1993||8–17 in all seats||$25||82.1%|
|Wisconsin||Primary Enforcement||December 1, 1987||Age 8+ in all seats||$10||79.2%|
|Wyoming||Secondary Enforcement||June 8, 1989||Age 9+ in all seats||$25||78.9%|
1North Carolina, Kansas, and New Jersey's law is Secondary Enforcement for rear seat occupants.
2These states assess points on one's driving record for the seat belt violation.
3In California- An additional penalty of $24 shall be levied upon every $10 or fraction thereof, of every fine, penalty, or forfeiture imposed by and collected by the court for criminal offenses, including all traffic offenses, except parking offenses as defined in subdivision (i) of Penal Code § 1463. The additional penalty is calculated as follows:
• State penalty required by PC 1464 $10, • County penalty required by GC 76000(e), $ 7 • Court facilities construction penalty required by GC 70372(a),$ 3 • DNA Identification Fund penalty required by GC 76104.6 and 76104.7,$ 2 • Emergency medical services penalty required by GC 76000.5,$ 2
Penal Code § 1465.8 requires imposition of an additional fee of twenty dollars ($20) for court security on every conviction for a criminal offense, including a traffic offense, except parking offenses as defined in Penal Code § 1463,$20
4 Virginia and Colorado's Law is Secondary for adults but Primary for under the age of 16.
5 Effective January 1, 2011, New Jersey's law is Secondary enforcement for rear seat occupants.
In 18 of the 50 states, the seat belt law is considered a secondary offense, which means that a police officer cannot stop and ticket a driver for the sole offense of not wearing a seatbelt. (One exception to this is Colorado, where children not properly restrained is a primary offense and brings a much larger fine.) If a driver commits a primary violation (e.g., for speeding) he may additionally be charged for not wearing a seatbelt. In most states the seat belt law was originally a secondary offense; in many it was later changed to a primary offense: California was the first state to do this, in 1993. Of the 30 with primary seat belt laws, all but 8, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas, originally had only secondary enforcement laws.
A person involved in a car accident who was not using a seatbelt may be liable for damages far greater than if they had been using a seatbelt. However, when in court, most states protect motorists from having their damages reduced in a lawsuit due to the nonuse of a seatbelt, even if they were acting in violation of the law by not wearing the seatbelt. Currently, damages may be reduced for the nonuse of a seatbelt in 16 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida (See F.S.A. 316.614(10)), Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
- US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (January 1, 1968). "Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 - Occupant Crash Protection Passenger Cars".
- "Safety belt use laws". Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. October 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-30.
- "Governors highway safety association". Ghsa.org. Retrieved 2011-07-16.
- "Seat Belt Use in 2010 – Use Rates in the States and Territories" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-05.
- "California traffic fine schedule" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-07-16.
- MGL PartI TitleXIV Chapter90 Section13a See also: the child passenger restraint law
- "State Seat Belt Laws". Ghsa.org. Retrieved 2011-07-16.
- Minnesota Department of Public Safety – Pages – Home. Dps.state.mn.us. Retrieved on 2012-06-01.
- "vehicle and traffic state mandated surcharges $85 for seatbelt". Horseheads.org. Retrieved 2011-07-16.
- "Virginia Seatbelt Laws". Code of Virginia. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
- "Child restraint/belt use laws". Iihs.org. Retrieved 2011-07-16.