Are Seatbelts Mandatory In USA?

by Jim on August 23, 2022

Legislation on seatbelt use varies with each state and according to the different age groups.

Typically, kids below 4 must always be secured in safety seats, while children above this age are deemed old enough to use seat belts. Regardless of the legal stance of the state you’re driving in, it’s always best to use seatbelts and child safety seats because seatbelts save lives. According to estimates, seatbelts have helped reduce traffic fatalities by 70%° and 80% of injuries.

Wearing of seat belts is mandatory in 49 states in the U.S., except for New Hampshire, whereby only drivers aged 18 and below are required by law to buckle up.

Seat Belt Legislation (Primary Law Enforcement and Secondary Law Enforcement)

If you were looking for a good reason to wear your seatbelts the next time you drive, here’s one: it’s illegal to drive without wearing seatbelts in all 49 states in America unless you reside in New Hampshire.

You’ll most likely be pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt or using appropriate child restraints for children in your car around Washington D.C and 34 other states that ban driving without seatbelts. The right of traffic officials to apprehend all violators of this law is known as primary enforcement.

The other fifteen states that ban driving without seatbelts assign secondary enforcement to violators. This means that if you get pulled over by the police for breaking any other driving law and are found not wearing your seatbelt, you’ll most definitely get a steeper penalty. Read on to learn more about general seat belt use and to discover if your state has mandatory seat belt use laws.

The Difference Between Primary Law and Secondary Law Enforcement

Legislation on seatbelt use for adults varies with each state. A majority of the states in the US have adopted primary enforcement, while a few others utilize secondary enforcement for handling cases involving drivers not wearing seatbelts.

When a state utilizes the primary enforcement for handling seatbelt incidents, this simply means that police officers within the state have the right to stop drivers on the road for not wearing seatbelts.

According to reports from the Transportation and Health Tool, the District of Columbia and about 17 other states in the US use the primary enforcement. The primary enforcement is regarded as the one with the most detailed policy on seatbelt use. This is because it applies to all drivers and passengers, regardless of their sitting position.

Secondary enforcement laws on seatbelt use are only effective when drivers are pulled over for committing separate road offenses and are also found not wearing seatbelts. As of date, a total of 17 states utilize secondary laws on seatbelt usage. This figure also includes the states without seatbelt laws.

Mandatory Seat Belt Laws For Rear Seat and Front Seat Passengers In The United States

According to the United States federal law, all vehicles on American roads must have three-point restraint systems, except for buses. In other words, each vehicle must have a shoulder belt and a lap belt. In some states, it’s against the law for passengers in the front seat not to use the shoulder and lap belt, while the seatbelt laws of other states are based on age and sitting position.

Seat Belt Laws by State

According to National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, every state in America has seatbelt laws except for New Hampshire. Below are the seatbelt laws of some US states, as well as their penalties.


Alabama utilizes the primary enforcement seatbelt law, which became effective on July 18, 1991. The seatbelt law applies to all passengers, and violators are charged a fine of $25


Like Alabama, Alaska also uses primary enforcement. The law became effective in this state on September 12, 1990, and all drivers and passengers found not wearing their seatbelts are fined a total of $15


Arizona uses the secondary enforcement seatbelt law, which was set in motion on January 1, 1991. A $10 fine is charged for breaking this law.


Since July 15, 1991, the state of Arkansas has been operating the primary seatbelt enforcement. The law covers all age groups and passengers in the front and rear seats. Also, a $25 fine is levied on violators


Like Arkansas, California utilizes primary seatbelt enforcement. However, to be precise, the law became effective a few years before, Jan 1, 1986. $20 is levied on first-time offenders, while the subsequent charges for breaking this law are to the tune of $50.


Since July 1, 1987, Colorado has been operating the Secondary enforcement seatbelt law. The total fine for being stopped by the police for not wearing a seatbelt is $71.


Connecticut uses the primary enforcement, which became effective on Jan 1, 1986. The law applies to front seat occupants and all rear seat passengers. The official fine for driving without a seatbelt is $92.


On Jan 1, 1992, Delaware signed the primary enforcement seatbelt law prohibiting all drivers from operating vehicles without wearing seatbelts. The fine for breaking this law is $25.

District of Colombia (DC)

The district of Colombia operates with the secondary seatbelt enforcement law, and a $50 fine is charged to offenders


This state utilizes primary laws on seatbelt use. The law not only applies to front seat passengers but all seating positions of passenger cars. The state charges a fine of $30 on violators.


The seat belt law of this state covers front and back seat passengers of all age groups. The state charges a relatively low fee of $15 on violators of their seatbelt law


The seatbelt law of this state concerns all age groups, and the fine for going against it is a hundred dollars, although committing a second offense could lead to a higher fine.


Like the District of Columbia, Hawaii also uses primary seat belt laws, which typically apply to all age groups. Failure to comply attracts a $45 fine.


Idaho uses the secondary enforcement seatbelt law, which became effective on July 1, 1986. Breaking this law attracts a $10 fine.


The law in Illinois requires all drivers, as well as front and back seat passengers, to wear their seatbelts on major roads. When apprehended by the police for a primary violation of the seatbelt law, offenders are charged $164.


The primary seatbelt enforcement law has been used in this state since the first of July 1987. A $25 fine is attached to seat belt violations.


On July 1, 1986, Iowa began using the primary seatbelt enforcement law in an attempt to minimize crash deaths. 91% of the state’s population responded positively to this driving law in 2017, significantly reducing car crash fatalities during the same year. Breaking this law attracts a $25 fine.

South Carolina

According to Highway Safety, a mandatory seat belt law was signed in South Carolina on July 1, 1989, making it a primary offense to ride in a vehicle without wearing a seat belt in both front and back seats. Failure to comply with the state’s seat belt law attracts a $25 fine.


In Kansas, all aged 14 and above are legally obligated to wear seatbelts on major roads to avoid severe injury and death. This law became effective on July 1, 1986. The fee for going against it is $60.

New Jersey

Not wearing a seat belt while driving in this state is considered a primary offense. Passengers aged 8 and above are also required by law to wear seatbelts. A $46 fine is attached to seat belt violations.

The Origin Of Seatbelts

Seatbelts are the best means of protection in the event of a road crash. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that using seatbelts is the best shot drivers have at avoiding severe injury and death during road accidents.

This is because 52 to 59 percent of teens and young adults lost their lives in fatal road crashes in the year 2014 because they weren’t wearing seatbelts. We are all quite aware that seatbelts save lives, but have you ever stopped wondering how they came to be in the first place?

A Brief History Of Seatbelts

In the late 1800s, a British engineer named George Cayley created the first seatbelts. Except, back then, they were only used to secure pilots in their gliders. A few decades later, in the year 1885 to be precise, an American named Edward J. Claghorn went on to design the first patented seatbelts.

These seatbelts were created to keep tourists safe while they rode in taxis. However, as time passed, they became more popular as people began to see just how useful they were. Not long after, car manufacturing companies started including them in cars to keep drivers and passengers secure in their seats, although at the time, road accidents weren’t all that common.

In the year 1954, the Sports Car Club of America made it compulsory for competing drivers to use seatbelts during races. Also, in the following year, the SAE, also known as the Society of Automotive Engineers, created a new body which was referred to at the time as The Motor Vehicle Seatbelt Committee, which was in charge of enforcing the new seatbelt requirement.

The Origin Of The Three-Point Belts

A major breakthrough in the production of seatbelts took place during the year 1958. During this time, a Swedish engineer named Nils Bohlin designed what’s now known as the three-point seatbelt. Before the invention of the three-point seatbelt, the only type of seatbelt in existence was the two-point lap belt, designed with a buckle that was typically placed on the abdomen.

In the year 1958, popular car manufacturing company Volvo hired Bohlin to help design three-point seatbelts for their cars to ensure the safety of their customers in the event of car accidents. Bohlin invented the three-point seatbelt to provide extra upper and lower body support to drivers and passenger vehicle occupants.

Why And When The US Federal Government Made The Production Of Cars With Seatbelts Mandatory

The best part about the three-point seatbelt design is that it’s simple and very effective, which is why many car manufacturers decided to imitate it. When Bohlin died in 2002, it was reported that seat belts saved over a million lives since he introduced the three-point seatbelt.

When the vast majority of the US population caught wind of the safety benefits Bohlin’s seatbelts provided, sales skyrocketed almost immediately. Also, auto companies started offering seatbelts to customers who felt they needed them; they were even on sale at different gas stations.

In the year 1966, car manufacturing companies were required by the Federal Government to only sell passenger vehicles with seatbelts. By 1975, almost every first-world country had legislation on seatbelts. This was primarily done to protect motor vehicle drivers from moderate to critical injury and death from motor vehicle crashes.

How Seatbelts Work

There’s no questioning the importance of safety driving laws concerning seatbelt use. According to statistical data from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, seatbelts helped save over 11,000 lives in the year 2000 alone and many more in subsequent years. Read on as we examine some facts about these simple but very useful driving accessories.

The Retractor

Seatbelts are generally designed with flexible webbing materials and retractors, enabling drivers to adjust them easily. Seatbelt retractors are usually fitted into plastic housing cases located at the spot right above the shoulder.

A standard seatbelt retractor should have a spool that automatically winds the belt. It should also have a spring attached to the spool, ensuring that the webbing remains taut.

Normally, the spool should spin counter-clockwise as you pull the seatbelt toward your pelvis. Since the spring automatically returns to its coiled state once you let go of the seatbelt, this causes the spool to turn in a clockwise manner, which reels the slack in.

The Locking Mechanism

One of the most crucial components of a seatbelt is the locking mechanism found in the spool. As the name implies, this device helps secure the belt tightly the instant a crash occurs. This locking device can be triggered by the belt’s movement.

The locking mechanism can also be activated by the vehicle’s system. In other words, when the car stops abruptly, a weighted pendulum automatically swings forward, which causes an iron bar to be jammed into the gear located on the spool. This causes the belt to stay in a particular position, unable to move any further, thereby securing the passenger tightly.

Vehicles with belt-activated systems use centrifugal force that causes seatbelts to jerk suddenly. This makes the lever that is attached to the spool move outwardly. As the lever extends forward, a relatively small metal in the device grips the toothed gear on the spool, stopping it from rotating.

How Do Seat Belts Protect Passengers?

Seatbelts are fashioned with a mesh-like structure which causes them to stretch slightly as they restrain passengers. Since these driving accessories act against a significant amount of inertia, they must be a bit flexible to ensure that they don’t feel like hard surfaces pressing against the body.

The seatbelts are designed to rest on the chest and hips to help minimize physical strain since these two areas are basically the strongest points of the body. Due to the design of seatbelts, it’s more convenient to wear them properly as it will help you keep them on longer and keep you from getting pulled over by the police.

It’s important not to let your seatbelt slip across your stomach or down your arm, as doing so can lead to internal disturbances and nasty fractures, which goes against the entire purpose of putting on a seatbelt.

Are Pregnant Women Required By Law To Wear Seatbelts?

From a legal standpoint, pregnant women are not excluded from wearing seatbelts unless they can provide a certificate of exemption from seatbelt wearing, which can only be acquired from Hospitals and healthcare institutions.

Pregnant women must always ensure to keep this certificate in their cars if traffic officials pull them over and ask why they aren’t wearing seatbelts. To avoid any misunderstanding with your car insurance company, you’ll have to inform them of the reason why you aren’t able to wear seatbelts while driving and provide them with your document of exception.

What Is The Safest and Most Comfortable Way To Wear Seatbelts When Pregnant?

It can be pretty tricky to put on a seatbelt when pregnant. However, there’s a safe and comfortable way to do so. First of all, lap belts need to be positioned below the belly and on the hip bones of pregnant women. Next, ensure that the shoulder belt is placed between your breasts and guided to the side of your belly.

It is crucial not to tighten the belt too much or keep it too loose since the seatbelt won’t be of any help in case a crash occurs. Lastly, you’ll have to resist the temptation of positioning the shoulder belt under your arm.

Is It Against The Law To Not Wear Seatbelts When Riding In A Minibus?

According to driving laws in the US, drivers and passengers of Minibuses and Vans are expected to wear lap and shoulder belts as long as they’re available.

Nowadays, minibuses are all designed with seatbelts to match the number of seats. If you’re driving a minibus, ensure that yourself, passengers in front seats, and rear seat occupants are wearing seat belts. As for young passengers, make sure they each have their seatbelts on, or else you likely get pulled over by the police.

According to seat belt laws, all drivers operating this type of vehicle must ensure that children aged 3 years and below sit using the appropriate restraint. Children between the ages of 6 and 14 are not required to sit in front; they are also considered old enough to be able to belt themselves.

Effectiveness of Seatbelt Laws

Seat belt laws have been immensely helpful in minimizing car crash deaths, which is why it’s vital to wear seat belts and use child seat restraints for children when driving. A recent study found that compulsory seatbelt laws have helped trim traffic fatalities involving children and young adults by 8 percent.

These laws have also drastically reduced severe traffic-related injuries by a 10%. Primary seatbelt enforcement laws have proven to be incredibly effective in preventing crash deaths in states where they’re enforced, compared to those without any seatbelt legislation.


Drivers and passengers are obligated to wear their seatbelts in almost every state in America. The most common reason people choose to drive unbuckled is that they feel seatbelts are uncomfortable. However, as a driver or front passenger, it would be wise to always use the front seat belt and ensure your car is fitted with airbags.

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