State Seatbelt Laws for Drivers and Passengers

The general requirements for safely securing drivers and passengers in motor vehicles.

All states have vehicle safety restraint and seatbelt laws aimed at reducing collision-related injuries and deaths. But the specifics of who has to be secured and where and how restraints must be used vary between states. This article gives a general overview of seatbelt laws, enforcement of seatbelt requirements, and some possible penalties for seatbelt violations.

Seatbelt Requirements

State governments are fairly unanimous in encouraging the use of seatbelts and vehicle safety restraints. However, state laws generally go further and actually require seatbelts, at least for front-seat passengers and passengers who are younger than 18 years old.

Front seat passengers. Every state (except New Hampshire) requires front-seat occupants to wear a seatbelt. And some states require that both front- and back-seat occupants wear seatbelts.

Child passengers. In many states, seatbelt requirements also depend on the age of the occupant. For example, in Arizona, back-seat passengers are only required to wear seatbelts if they are under the age of 16 years old. And younger children—usually, under 8 years old—are subject to more stringent child seat restraint laws.

Minor drivers. Generally, teen drivers have special seatbelt requirements for both themselves and their passengers. In many states, a passenger to a teen driver may be required to buckle up, regardless of the passenger's age. For violations, a teen driver might face license penalties, such as delayed license advancement. Many states require a teen driver to be free of any violations (including seatbelt tickets) for six months before advancing to a probationary or unrestricted license.

Seatbelt Violation Tickets, Enforcement, and Penalties

Primary and secondary violations. Depending on the state, a seatbelt ticket may be considered a primary or secondary violation. The designation as “primary” or “secondary” determines when police can enforce a violation. For example, seatbelts tickets are a primary violation in Kansas, so an officer can stop a driver solely for not wearing a seatbelt. But in Arizona, seatbelt laws are secondary offenses, meaning an officer cannot stop you for a seatbelt violation but can issue a ticket if you are already stopped for some other infraction.

Penalties. Failure to properly use a seatbelt is typically an infraction and can generally result in $25 to $250 in fines. The ticket is usually given to the driver even if the passenger was in violation. Although generally a non-moving violation, some states assign demerit points for seatbelt violations. Too many demerit points can result in license suspension.

Passengers Outside of the Cabin

While uncommon, some states do have specific laws permitting or restricting passengers outside of the vehicle interior. In Florida, for instance, passengers are permitted to ride in the bed of a truck as long as they are over the age of 18. As youth are subject to seatbelt and car seat laws, they are generally not permitted to ride outside of the cab.

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