Seat belt legislation in the United States

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Seat belt laws for front seat passengers in the U.S. as of 2009 (Today, Utah and West Virginia have primary enforcement)
  Primary enforcement
  Primary under certain ages
  Secondary enforcement
  Primary enforcement for minors, no enforcement for adults

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

Primary and secondary enforcement[edit]

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 or she 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.

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.

Laws by state[edit]

This table contains a brief summary of all seatbelt laws in the United States.[3][4] 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 Seat Belt Usage[5]
Flag of Alabama.svg Alabama Primary Enforcement July 18, 1991 Age 15+ in front seats $25 91.4%
Flag of Alaska.svg Alaska Primary Enforcement September 12, 1990 Age 16+ in all seats $15 ($25 actual) 86.8%
Flag of Arizona.svg Arizona Secondary Enforcement January 1, 1991 Age 5+ in front seats; Age 5–15 in all seats $10 ($37.20 actual) 81.8%
Flag of Arkansas.svg Arkansas Primary Enforcement July 15, 1991 Age 15+ in front seats $25 78.3%
Flag of California.svg California Primary Enforcement January 1, 1986 Age 6+ in all seats $20 ($88 actual) $50 second offense ($190 actual)[6] 96.2%
Flag of Colorado.svg Colorado Secondary Enforcement4 exception Mountain View where it is a primary violation[7] July 1, 1987 All front seats; under 16 all seats $71 82.9%
Flag of Connecticut.svg Connecticut Primary Enforcement January 1, 1986 Age 7+ in front seats $92 88.2%
Flag of Delaware.svg Delaware Primary Enforcement January 1, 1992 Age 16+ in all seats $25 90.7%
Flag of Washington, D.C..svg District of Columbia Primary Enforcement December 12, 1985 Age 16+ in all seats $502 92.3%
Flag of Florida.svg Florida Primary Enforcement July 1, 1986 6+ years in front seat; 6 through 17 years in all seats $30 ($116 actual) 87.4%
Flag of Georgia (U.S. state).svg Georgia Primary Enforcement September 1, 1988 Age 6–17 in all seats; Age 18+ in front seats $15 89.6%
Flag of Hawaii.svg Hawaii Primary Enforcement December 16, 1985 Age 8–17 in all seats; Age 18+ in front seat $45 ($92 actual) 97.6%
Flag of Idaho.svg Idaho Secondary Enforcement July 1, 1986 Age 7+ in all seats $10 ($51.50 actual) 77.9%
Flag of Illinois.svg Illinois Primary Enforcement January 1, 1988 Age 16+ in all seats $25 ($60 actual or $95 if choosing traffic school) 92.6%
Flag of Indiana.svg Indiana Primary Enforcement July 1, 1987 Age 16+ in all seats $25 92.4%
Flag of Iowa.svg Iowa Primary Enforcement July 1, 1986 Age 11+ in front seats $50 ($127.50 actual) 93.1%
Flag of Kansas.svg Kansas Primary Enforcement1 July 1, 1986 Age 14–17 in all seats; age 18+ in front seat $30 81.8%
Flag of Kentucky.svg Kentucky Primary Enforcement July 15, 1994 More than 40 in. tall in all seats $25 80.3%
Flag of Louisiana.svg Louisiana Primary Enforcement July 1, 1986 Age 13+ in front seats $25 75.9%
Flag of Maine.svg 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%
Flag of Maryland.svg Maryland Primary Enforcement July 1, 1986 Age 16+ in front seats $83 94.7%
Flag of Massachusetts.svg Massachusetts Secondary Enforcement February 1, 1994 Age 13+ in all seats [8] $25 73.7%
Flag of Michigan.svg Michigan Primary Enforcement July 1, 1985 Age 4+ in front seats; Age 4–15 in all seats $25 ($65 actual) 95.2%
Flag of Minnesota.svg Minnesota Primary Enforcement August 1, 1986 Anyone not covered by child passenger safety law in all seats[9][10] $25 + $75 fee 92.3%
Flag of Mississippi.svg Mississippi Primary Enforcement July 1, 1994 Age 4–7 in all seats; Age 8+ in front seat $25 81.0%
Flag of Missouri.svg Missouri Secondary Enforcement September 28, 1985 Age 16+ in front seats $10 76.0%
Flag of Montana.svg Montana Secondary Enforcement October 1, 1987 Age 6+ in all seats $20 78.9%
Flag of Nebraska.svg Nebraska Secondary Enforcement January 1, 1993 Age 18+ in all seats $25 84.1%
Flag of Nevada.svg Nevada Secondary Enforcement July 1, 1987 Age 6+ in all seats $25 93.2%
Flag of New Hampshire.svg New Hampshire Primary for children only No law Age 17 and under in all seats $50 72.2%
Flag of New Jersey.svg New Jersey Primary Enforcement1 March 1, 1985 Age 8+ in all seats $50 per person 93.7%
Flag of New Mexico.svg New Mexico Primary Enforcement January 1, 1986 Age 18+ in all seats $822 89.8%
Flag of New York.svg New York Primary Enforcement December 1, 1984 Age 16+ in front seats $50 ($135 Actual after surcharges)[11] 89.8%
Flag of North Carolina.svg North Carolina Primary Enforcement1 October 1, 1985 Age 16+ in all seats $25 ($161 Actual after court costs) 89.7%
Flag of North Dakota.svg North Dakota Secondary Enforcement July 14, 1994 Age 18+ in front seats $20 (actual $100.50) 74.8%
Flag of Ohio.svg Ohio Secondary Enforcement May 6, 1986 Age 15+ in front seat; 4–14 in all seats $30 83.8%
Flag of Oklahoma.svg Oklahoma Primary Enforcement February 1, 1987 Age 13+ in front seats $20 85.9%
Flag of Oregon.svg Oregon Primary Enforcement December 7, 1990 Age 16+ in all seats $90 97.0%
Flag of Pennsylvania.svg Pennsylvania Secondary Enforcement November 23, 1987 Age 8+ in front seats $10 86.0%
Flag of Rhode Island.svg Rhode Island Primary Enforcement June 18, 1991 Age 13+ in all seats $75 78.0%
Flag of South Carolina.svg South Carolina Primary Enforcement July 1, 1989 Age 6+ in all seats $25 85.4%
Flag of South Dakota.svg South Dakota Secondary Enforcement January 1, 1995 Age 18+ in front seats $20 74.5%
Flag of Tennessee.svg Tennessee Primary Enforcement April 21, 1986 Age 16+ in front seats $25 87.1%
Flag of Texas.svg Texas Primary Enforcement September 1, 1985 Age 8+ in all seats (under 15 not liable) $50 93.8%
Flag of Utah.svg Utah Primary Enforcement[12] April 28, 1986 Age 16+ in all seats $45 89.0%
Flag of Vermont.svg Vermont Secondary Enforcement January 1, 1994 Age 16+ in all seats $25 85.2%
Flag of Virginia.svg Virginia Secondary Enforcement 4 January 1, 1988 Age 18+ in front seats[13] $25 80.5%
Flag of Washington.svg Washington Primary Enforcement June 11, 1986 Age 16+ in all seats $124 97.6%
Flag of West Virginia.svg West Virginia Primary Enforcement September 1, 1993 8–17 in all seats $25 82.1%
Flag of Wisconsin.svg Wisconsin Primary Enforcement December 1, 1987 Age 8+ in all seats $10 79.2%
Flag of Wyoming.svg 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.

Damages reduction[edit]

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.[14]


Seat belt laws are effective in reducing car crash deaths.[15] One study found that mandatory-seatbelt laws reduced traffic fatalities by 8% and serious traffic-related injuries by 9%, respectively.[16] Primary-seatbelt laws seem to be more effective at reducing crash deaths than secondary laws.[17][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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". 
  2. ^ US Department of TransportationNational 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". 
  3. ^ "Safety belt use laws". Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. October 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
  4. ^ "Governors highway safety association". Retrieved 2011-07-16. 
  5. ^ "Seat Belt Use in 2010 – Use Rates in the States and Territories" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-05. 
  6. ^ "California traffic fine schedule" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-07-16. 
  7. ^ 9News Jeremy Jojola on Denver Metro Speed Traps. 9News. 8 June 2015. 
  8. ^ MGL PartI TitleXIV Chapter90 Section13a See also: the child passenger restraint law
  9. ^ "State Seat Belt Laws". Retrieved 2011-07-16. 
  10. ^ Minnesota Department of Public Safety – Pages – Home. Retrieved on 2012-06-01.
  11. ^ "vehicle and traffic state mandated surcharges $85 for seatbelt". Retrieved 2011-07-16. 
  12. ^ Deseret News, May 7, 2015 Utah's new primary seat belt law goes into effect May 12
  13. ^ "Virginia Seatbelt Laws". Code of Virginia. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  14. ^ "Child restraint/belt use laws". Retrieved 2011-07-16. 
  15. ^ Cohen, Alma; Einav, Liran (November 2003). "The Effects of Mandatory Seat Belt Laws on Driving Behavior and Traffic Fatalities". Review of Economics and Statistics. 85 (4): 828–843. doi:10.1162/003465303772815754. 
  16. ^ Carpenter, Christopher S.; Stehr, Mark (May 2008). "The effects of mandatory seatbelt laws on seatbelt use, motor vehicle fatalities, and crash-related injuries among youths". Journal of Health Economics. 27 (3): 642–662. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2007.09.010. 
  17. ^ Lee, Lois K.; Monuteaux, Michael C.; Burghardt, Lindsey C.; Fleegler, Eric W.; Nigrovic, Lise E.; Meehan, William P.; Schutzman, Sara A.; Mannix, Rebekah (4 August 2015). "Motor Vehicle Crash Fatalities in States With Primary Versus Secondary Seat Belt Laws". Annals of Internal Medicine. 163 (3): 184. doi:10.7326/M14-2368. 
  18. ^ Rivara, FrederickP.; Thompson, DianeC.; Cummings, Peter (January 1999). "Effectiveness of primary and secondary enforced seat belt laws". American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 16 (1): 30–39. doi:10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00113-5.