Seat belt laws are grouped into two broad categories known as primary and secondary laws. In states with primary seat belt laws, failure to wear a seat belt is a violation that is cause for a police officer to stop you. In secondary seat belt law states, not meeting the state’s seat belt laws isn’t enough for you to be pulled over, but it is a ticket able offense if you’re stopped for something else, and the officer sees you without a seat belt.
Apart from these broad categories about how seat belt laws are enforced, states differ in the details of who must wear a seat belt and in which seats. In some states, rules for minors or young children differ from those for adults. The seat belt requirements are usually more stringent for younger passengers in these cases. For instance, one state’s law requires seat belts for all passengers eight years and older in the front but only requires them in the back for passengers 15 and under.
Depending on your state’s laws, seat belt use, or more specifically seat belt violations, may also affect your car insurance. Learn more about how seat belts can affect insurance.
What is seat belt safety?
Seat belts are essential because they save lives. According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, fewer than 10% of Americans don’t use a seat belt but account for nearly half of all traffic accident fatalities. Despite some people’s continued reluctance to wear a seat belt, it’s hard to overstate the importance of wearing a seat belt.
For instance, the survey revealed that 59% of drivers who don’t buckle up think they don’t need to do so when driving a short distance, but studies indicate that 25% of accidents happen within the first three minutes of driving, and another 14% of accidents occur within the first six minutes.
According to a 2007 study by the NHTSA, the most common reasons among study respondents who didn’t always wear a seat belt are:
- Only driving a short distance (59%)
- Forgetting (52%)
- Being in a rush (39%)
- Finding seat belts uncomfortable (35%)
Do you have to wear a seat belt in the back seat?
Most states have a back-seat seat belt law. However, there are a few states without seat belt laws for the back seat. Learn more about the specific seat belt requirements in your state.
Do I need to wear my seat belt if I have airbags?
Yes. State seat belt laws don’t make exemptions for cars with airbags. The airbags are designed to work with the seat belt and can be dangerous if you aren’t buckled in. If you’re unbuckled in a crash, you can be thrown forward into the expanding airbag, causing further injury.
What are the seat belt laws for classic cars?
If you drive a classic car there’s a good chance that the car either doesn’t have seat belts or doesn’t have modern three-point seat belts. Depending on state seat belt law, you aren’t necessarily required to add seat belts if your classic car didn’t originally have them, but you may want to do so since antique vehicles don’t have the other modern safety features that supplement seat belt use.