How Each State Enforces Seatbelt Laws
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2017, seat belts saved 14,955 lives while 47% of people killed on the roads were not wearing their seat belts. According to the CDC, more than half of teens and adults aged 20 to 44 who died in crashes in 2018 were not wearing their seat belts. Despite the seat belt use rate being 90.7% in 2019, a significant number of vehicle crash deaths continue to involve the absence of wearing a seat belt.
With this in mind, it makes sense why seat belts are heavily enforced by law enforcement. However, seat belts were not always mandated. It wasn’t until 1964 that all new passenger cars had some type of seat belt and by 1968, all new American vehicles were required to have a seat belt. Specifically, the three-point safety belt that protects both the upper and lower body rather than the widely-used lap belt.
Fast-forward to 2020, all passenger vehicles contain the three-point seat belt, and every state has its own laws regarding the enforcement of wearing seat belts. Seat belt laws can be either primary or secondary:
- Primary enforcement: Allows law enforcement officers to issue tickets to drivers or passengers for not wearing a seat belt, whether or not a traffic offense was committed.
- Secondary enforcement: Allows law enforcement officers to issue tickets to drivers and passengers for failing to wear a seat belt only if they initially stopped the vehicle for a different traffic violation.
So, which states have primary and secondary enforcement laws?
As you can see below, 34 states and the District of Columbia have primary enforcement laws, while 15 states have secondary enforcement laws. New Hampshire is the only state in the US that does not require adults aged 18 and over to wear a seat belt.
Primary Enforcement States
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
Secondary Enforcement States
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
Did You Get a Ticket? We Will Fight It.
As a primary enforcement state, California holds higher standards for seat belt use compared to secondary enforcement states. As such, if you were ticketed for not wearing a seat belt, don’t hesitate to contact our Fresno traffic ticket lawyer at (559) 484-2112 to learn about your options!