Seat belt laws require the driver and their passengers to wear a seat belt or harness in compliance with federal mandates on safety belt standards. The seat belt laws usually apply to passenger cars, vans, or trucks, that are anytime in a forward motion. They also usually apply to both children and adults.

While seat belts laws are different between the states, they are generally divided into two categories: primary laws and secondary laws. There are also some exceptions to when these laws apply.

What are Primary Seat Belt Laws?

A state has primary seat belt laws if a police officer can issue a ticket to a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt without another traffic violation having occurred. As of March 2018, 34 states and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt laws for front seat drivers and passengers. 18 of these states and the District of Columbia also have primary seat belt laws for rear passengers. 4 of these states have secondary seat belt laws for rear passengers, which is discussed below.

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What are Secondary Seat Belt Laws?

A state has secondary seat belt laws if a police officer can only issue a ticket to a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt when another traffic violation has occurred. For example, if you run a stop sign and do not have your seatbelt on, you can also get a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. However, the police officer would not just be able to issue you a ticket if you were following the rules of the road but not wearing your seatbelt.

Currently, 15 states have secondary seat belt laws for adult front seat drivers and passengers. 6 of these states also have secondary seat belt laws for rear passengers.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Seat Belt Laws?

Many states carve out specific exceptions when their seat belt laws do not apply. Some examples are:

  • Postal carriers on duty;
  • Ambulance and other emergency vehicles; and
  • Vehicles manufactured before a specified year.

Do I Need an Attorney?

Generally, a violation of seat belt laws will usually be a ticket, where you pay a fine and court costs. However, subsequent and repeated offenses can become costly and lead to points on your driving record or worse. In addition, many states have different laws pertaining to child safety. You should contact a criminal defense attorney if you want to know more about the laws in your state or have multiple seat belt violations.