November 2014

Safety belt laws

There are mandatory safety belt laws in all states except New Hampshire. In some states, these laws cover front-seat occupants only, but belt laws in 28 states and the District of Columbia cover all rear-seat occupants, too.

Belt use laws in only 33 states and the District of Columbia are primary, meaning police may stop vehicles solely for belt law violations. In other jurisdictions, police must have some other reason to stop a vehicle before citing an occupant for failing to buckle up.

Safety belt use can have implications in civil suits — 16 states allow the "safety belt defense," which can reduce damages collected by someone in a crash if the person failed to buckle up. The reduction is permitted only for injuries that would have been prevented by a belt. In some states, the reduction may not exceed a fixed percentage of the damages.

Child seat laws

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have child seat laws. Child seat laws require children to travel in approved child restraint devices or booster seats and some permit or require older children to use adult safety belts. The age at which belts can be used instead of child restraints differs among the states. Young children usually are covered by child seat laws, while safety belt laws cover older children and adults.

Because enforcement and fines differ under belt use and child seat laws, it's important to know which law is being violated when a child isn't restrained. Most child seat laws are primary, meaning police may stop vehicles solely for child seat violations. Nebraska and Ohio leave some children under a secondary enforcement law, meaning that police must have an additional reason to make a stop. Nebraska's law is secondary only for those children who may be in safety belts and primary for those who must be in a child seats. Ohio's law is secondary for children ages 4 through 14 years.

Ideally, all infants and children in all vehicles should be covered by enforceable safety belt laws or child seat laws or both. But differences in the way the laws in various states are worded result in many occupants, especially children, being covered by neither law. Lawmakers have eliminated most of these gaps by amending their child seat and safety belt laws; still, 15-year-olds riding in the rear seat in Arkansas, Alabama and Ohio, children age 7 and older riding in the rear seat in Mississippi, and children age 13 through 15 riding in the rear seat in Oklahoma are covered by neither law. All children younger than 16 in the other 45 states and the District of Columbia are covered by one, or both laws.

  Safety belt law Child seat law
State Initial
effective
date
Primary
enforcement?
Who is covered?
In what seats?
Maximum base fine 1st offense, additional fees may apply Must be in
child seat
Adult belt permissible
Maximum base fine 1st offense, additional fees may apply Preference for
rear seat
AL 07/18/91 yes; effective 12/09/99 15+ years in front seat $25 younger than 1 or less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing infant seat; 1 through 4 years or 20-40 pounds in a forward-facing child safety seat; 5 but not yet 6 in a booster seat. 6 through 14 years $251 law states no preference for rear seat
AK 09/12/90 yes; effective 05/01/06 16+ years in all seats $15 younger than 1 or less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing infant seat; 1 through 4 years and more than 20 pounds in a child restraint, 4 through 15 years who are either shorter than 57 inches or who weigh more than 20 but less than 65 pounds in a booster 4 through 7 years who are at least 57 inches or 65+ pounds; 7 through 15 who are shorter than 57 inches or weigh less than 65 pounds $501 law states no preference for rear seat
AZ 01/01/91 no 8+ years in front seat; 8 through 15 in all seats $10 4 years and younger; children 5 through 7 who are 57 inches or shorter 5 through 7 who are taller than 57 inches $50 law states no preference for rear seat
AR 07/15/91 yes, effective 06/30/09 15+ years in front seat $252 5 years and younger and less than 60 pounds 6 through 14 years or 60+ pounds $100 law states no preference for rear seat
CA 01/01/86 yes; effective 01/01/93 16+ years in all seats $20 7 years and younger who are less than 57 inches3 8 through 15 years or at least 57 inches $1001 children 7 years and younger who are less than 57 inches must be in the rear seat3
CO 07/01/87 no 16+ years in front seat $71 younger than 1 year and less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing infant seat; 1 through 3 years and 20-40 pounds in a child safety seat; 4 through 7 years in a booster seat 8 through 15 years $81 1 year and younger and less than 20 pounds must be in the rear seat if available
CT 01/01/86 yes; effective 01/01/86 7+ years in front seat $15 younger than 1 year or less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing restraint system; 1 through 6 years who is less than 60 pounds in a child restraint system (booster seats may only be used in a seating position with a lap and shoulder belt) 7 through 15 years and 60+ pounds4 $604 law states no preference for rear seat
DE 01/01/92 yes; effective 06/30/03 16+ years in all seats $25 7 years and younger and less than 66 pounds5 8 through 15 years or 66+ pounds5 $25 children 11 years and younger and 65 inches or less must be in rear seat if passenger airbag is active5
DC 12/12/85 yes; effective 10/01/97 16+ years in all seats $501 7 years and younger 8 through 15 years $751 law states no preference for rear seat
FL 07/01/86 yes; effective 6/30/09 6+ years in front seat; 6 through 17 years in all seats $30 5 years and younger (effective 01/01/15) not permissible6 (effective 01/01/15) $601 law states no preference for rear seat
GA 09/01/88 yes; effective 07/01/96 8 through 17 years in all seats; 18+ years in front seat $157 7 years and younger and 57 inches or less8 more than 57 inches $501 7 years and younger must be in rear seat if avaliable
HI 12/16/85 yes; effective 12/16/85 8+ years in all seats $45 3 years and younger in a child safety seat; 4 years through 7 years must be in a booster seat or child restraint 4 through 7 years who are taller than 4'9"; 4 through 7 years who are at least 40 pounds seated in a rear seat where if there are no available lap/shoulder belts, may be restrained by a lap belt $1009 law states no preference for rear seat
ID 07/01/86 no 7+ years in all seats $10 6 years and younger not permissible $79 law states no preference for rear seat
IL 01/01/88 yes; effective 07/03/03 16+ years in all seats $25 7 years and younger 8 through 15 years; children who weigh more than 40 pounds seated in the rear where only a lap belt is available $75 law states no preference for rear seat
IN 07/01/87 yes; effective 07/01/98 16+ years in all seats $25 7 years and younger10 8 through 15 years $251 law states no preference for rear seat
IA 07/01/86 yes; effective 07/01/86 18+ years in front seat $25 younger than 1 year and less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing child seat; 1 through 5 years 6 through 17 years $25 law states no preference for rear seat
KS 07/01/86 yes; effective 6/10/10 (secondary for rear seat occupants >18) 14+ years in all seats $60/no court costs: 14 -17 years; $10/no court costs: 18+ years all children 3 and younger must be in a child restraint; children 4 through 7 who weigh less than 80 pounds and children 4 through 7 who are less than 57 inches tall must be in a child restraint or booster seat all children 8 through 13 years; children 4 through 7 years who weigh more than 80 pounds, and children 4 through 7 years who are taller than 57 inches $60 law states no preference for rear seat
KY 07/15/94 yes; effective 07/20/06 6 and younger and more than 50 inches in all seats; 7+ in all seats $25 40 inches or less in a child restraint; 6 and younger who are between 40 and 50 inches tall in a booster seat 6 and younger who are taller than 50 inches $50 child restraint; $30 booster seat law states no preference for rear seat
LA 07/01/86 yes; effective 09/01/95 13+ years in all seats $25, $45 Orleans Parish younger than 1 year or less than 20 pounds in a child safety seat; 1 through 3 years or 20-39 pounds in a forward-facing child safety seat; 4 through 5 years or 40-60 pounds in a child booster seat 6 through 12 years or greater than 60 pounds $100 law states no preference for rear seat
ME 12/26/95 yes; effective 09/20/07 18+ years in all seats $50 less than 40 pounds in a child safety seat; 40-80 pounds and less than 8 years in a safety system that elevates the child so that an adult seat belt fits properly 8 through 17 years or less than 18 years and more than 4'9" $50 11 years and younger and less than 100 pounds must be in rear seat if available
MD 07/01/86 yes; effective 10/01/97 (secondary for rear seat occupants; effective 10/01/13) 16+ years in all seats $50 7 years and younger and less than 57 inches 8 through 15 years; children who are at least 57 inches $50 law states no preference for rear seat
MA 02/01/94 no 13+ years in all seats $2511 7 years and younger and less than 57 inches 8 through 12 years; children who are at least 57 inches tall $25 law states no preference for rear seat
MI 07/01/85 yes; effective 04/01/00 16+ years in front seat $25 7 years and younger and less than 57 inches 8 through 15 years; children who are at least 57 inches tall $1012 3 years and younger must be in the rear seat if available
MN 08/01/86 yes; effective 06/09/09 7 and younger and more than 57 inches in all seats; 8+ in all seats $25 7 years and younger and less than 57 inches not permissible $50 law states no preference for rear seat
MS 07/01/94 yes; effective 05/27/06 7+ years in front seat $25 3 years and younger must be in a child restraint; 4 through 6 years and either less than 57 inches or less than 65 pounds must be in a booster seat 6 years and younger who either weigh 65 pounds or more or who are 57 inches or taller $25 law states no preference for rear seat
MO 09/28/85 no (yes for children <16) 16+ years in front seat $10 3 years and younger must be in a child restraint; all children who weigh less than 40 pounds must be in a CR; 4 through 7 years who weigh at least 40 pounds but less than 80 pounds and who are 4'9" or shorter must be in either a CR or booster seat; children 4 years and older who weigh at least 80 pounds or who are at least 4'9" tall must be in either a booster seat or safety belt all children 8 through 16 years; all children 4 years and older who weigh 80 pounds or more or who are taller than 4'9" $50; $10 for violations involving children taller than 4'9" or who weigh 80 pounds or more law states no preference for rear seat
MT 10/01/87 no 6+ years in all seats $20 5 years and and younger and less than 60 pounds not permissible $100 law states no preference for rear seat
NE 01/01/93 no 18+ years in front seat $25 5 years and younger 6 through 17 years13 $251 law states no preference for rear seat
NV 07/01/87 no 6+ years in all seats $25 5 years and younger and 60 pounds or less not permissible $50014 law states no preference for rear seat
NH n/a no law no law no law 6 years and younger who are less than 57 inches 7 through 17 years; younger than 7 who are at least 57 inches tall $50 law states no preference for rear seat
NJ 03/01/85 yes; effective 05/01/00 (secondary for rear seat occupants; effective 1/20/11) 7 years and younger and more than 80 pounds; 8+ in all seats $20 7 years and younger and less than 80 pounds not permissible $25 children 7 years and younger and less than 80 pounds must be in the rear seat if available
NM 01/01/86 yes; effective 01/01/86 18+ years in all seats $251 younger than 1 year in a rear-facing infant seat; 1 through 4 years or less than 40 pounds in a child safety seat; 5 through 6 or less than 60 pounds in a booster seat 7 through 17 years $25 children younger than 1 year in a rear-facing infant seat must be in the rear seat if available
NY 12/01/84 yes; effective 12/01/84 16+ years in front seat $5015 3 and younger unless they weigh more than 40 pounds and are seated where there is no available lap/shoulder belt; 4 through 7 years unless they are seated where there is no available lap/shoulder belt 8 through 15 years; children who weigh more than 40 pounds or children 4 through 7 years in a seating position where there is no available lap/shoulder belt $1001 law states no preference for rear seat
NC 10/01/85 yes; effective 12/01/06 (secondary for rear seat occupants) 16+ years in all seats $25 7 years and younger and less than 80 pounds 8 through 15 years + children 40-80 pounds in seats without shoulder belts $251 children 4 years and younger who weigh less than 40 pounds must be in the rear seat unless the front passenger airbag is deactivated or the restraint is designed for use with airbags
ND 07/14/94 no 18+ years in front seat $20 6 years and younger and less than 57 inches or less than 80 pounds 7 through 17 years; 6 years and younger and at least 57 inches tall and at least 80 pounds; 6 years and younger and at least 40 pounds, if there are no available lap/shoulder belts, may be restrained by a lap belt $251 law states no preference for rear seat
OH 05/06/86 no 8 through 14 in all seats; 15+ years in front seat $30 driver/$20 passenger 3 years and younger or less than 40 pounds in child restraint; 4 through 7 years who weigh 40 pounds or more and who are shorter than 57 inches in booster seat 8 through 14 years16 $7516 law states no preference for rear seat
OK 02/01/87 yes; effective 11/01/97 13+ years in front seat $20 5 years and younger17 6 through 12 years $50 law states no preference for rear seat
OR 12/07/90 yes; effective 12/07/90 16+ years in all seats $110 younger than 1 year or 20 pounds or less must be in a rear facing child safety seat; 7 or younger: 40 pounds or less must be in a child safety seat; more than 40 pounds but 4 feet and 9 inches or less must be in a safety system that elevates the child so that an adult seat belt fits properly taller than 4 feet and 9 inches; 8 through 15 $110 law states no preference for rear seat
PA 11/23/87 no (yes for children <18 years) 8 through 17 years in all seats; 18+ years in front seat $10 7 years and younger not permissible $75 law states no preference for rear seat
RI 06/18/91 yes; effective 6/30/11 18+ years in all seats $40 7 years and younger and less than 57 inches and less than 80 pounds 7 years and younger who either weigh 80 pounds or more or who are at least 57 inches tall; 8 through 17 $85 children 7 and younger must be in rear seat if available
SC 07/01/89 yes; effective 12/09/0518 6+ years in all seats $25 younger than 1 year or less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing infant seat; 1 through 5 years and 20-39 pounds in a forward-facing child safety seat; 1 through 5 years and 40-80 pounds in a booster seat secured by lap-shoulder belt (lap belt alone is impermissible) 1 through 5 years and 80+ pounds or any child 5 years and younger if the child's knees bend over the seat edge when sitting up straight with his/her back firmly against the seat back $150 children 5 years and younger must be in rear seat if available
SD 01/01/95 no 18+ years in front seat $20 4 years and younger and less than 40 pounds 5 through 17 years; all children 40+ pounds, regardless of age $25 law states no preference for rear seat
TN 04/21/86 yes; effective 07/01/04 16+ years in front seat $5019 younger than 1 year or 20 pounds or less in a rear-facing infant seat; 1 through 3 years and 20+ pounds in a forward-facing infant seat; 4 through 8 years and less than 4'9" in a booster seat 9 through 15 years or any child 12 or younger who is 4'9" or taller $50 children 8 years and younger and less than 4'9" must be in rear seat if available; rear seat recommended for children 9 through 12
TX 09/01/85 yes; effective 09/01/85 7 years and younger who are 57 inches or taller; 8+ years in all seats $200 7 years and younger and less than 57 inches not permissible $25 minimum; maximum unlisted law states no preference for rear seat
UT 04/28/86 no (yes for children <19 years) 16+ years in all seats $45 7 years and younger and shorter than 57 inches 8 through 15 years; all children 57 inches or taller $45 law states no preference for rear seat
VT 01/01/94 no 18+ years in all seats $25 younger than 1 year or less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing infant seat; 1 through 7 and more than 20 pounds 8 through 17 years and more than 20 pounds $25 children 1 year and younger or less than 20 pounds must be in the rear seat unless the front passenger airbag is deactivated
VA 01/01/88 no 18+ years in front seat $25 7 years and younger unless they have a physician exemption20 8 through 17 years20 $50 children in rear-facing devices must be in a rear seat if available; if not available, they may be placed in front only if front passenger airbag is deactivated20
WA 06/11/86 yes; effective 07/01/02 16+ years in all seats $124 7 years and younger and less than 4'9" 8 through 15; 7 years and younger and 4'9" or taller; children who weigh more than 40 pounds in a seating position where there is only a lap belt available $124 12 years and younger must be in rear seat if practical
WV 09/01/93 yes; effective 07/1/2013 8+ years in front seat; 8 through 17 years in all seats $25 7 years and younger and less than 4'9" 7 years and younger and 4'9" or taller $20 law states no preference for rear seat
WI 12/01/87 yes; effective 06/30/09 8+ years in all seats $10 children younger than 1 and all children who weigh less than 20 pounds are required to be in a rear-facing infant seat; children 1 through 3 years who weigh at least 20 pounds but less than 40 pounds are required to be in a rear-facing infant seat or a forward-facing child safety seat; children 4 through 7 who both weigh at least 40 pounds but less than 80 pounds and who are less than 57 inches tall are required to be in a forward-facing child safety seat or a booster seat 8 years and younger and more than 80 pounds and 57 inches or taller $75 children 3 and younger must be in a rear seat, if available
WY 06/08/89 no 9+ years in all seats $2521driver/$10 passenger 8 years and younger not permissible $50 children 8 years and younger must be in the rear seat if available

1This state assesses points for violations.

2Arkansas rewards belt use by reducing moving violation fines by $10 if a law enforcement officer notes that the driver is compliant with the belt use law.

3In California, children weighing more than 40 pounds may be belted without a booster seat if they are seated in the rear seat of a vehicle with only lap belts. The California rear seat requirement does not apply if there is no rear seat; the rear seats are side-facing jump seats; the rear seats are rear-facing seats; the child passenger restraint system cannot be installed properly in the rear seat; all rear seats are already occupied by children under 12; or medical reasons necessitate that the child not ride in the rear seat. A child may not ride in the front seat of a motor vehicle with an active passenger airbag if the child is riding in a rear-facing child restraint system.

4The fine in Connecticut is $15 if the child is 4-16 years old and weighs 40 pounds or more. Connecticut also requires a mandatory child restraint education program for first or second violation.

5In Delaware, children younger than 12 and 65 inches or less must be restrained in a rear seat if a vehicle has a passenger airbag unless the airbag has been either deactivated or designed to accommodate smaller people. Exceptions: no rear seat or rear seat occupied by other children younger than 12 and 65 inches or less.

6In Florida, the child restraint device requirement does not apply to children age 4 through 5, when a safety belt is used and the child is either being transported by an operator who is not a member of the child's immediate family, in an emergency or has a documented medical condition that necessitates an exception.

7In Georgia, the maximum fine is $25 if the child is 6-18 years old.

8In Georgia, children weighing more than 40 pounds are permitted to be restrained in the back seat of a vehicle by a lap belt if the vehicle is not equipped with lap and shoulder belts or when the lap and shoulder belts are being used by other children who weigh more than 40 pounds.

9Hawaii drivers are charged $50 for a mandatory child restraint education program and a $10 surcharge deposited into a neurotrauma fund.

10In Indiana, children weighing more than 40 pounds are permitted to be restrained by a lap belt if the vehicle is not equipped with lap and shoulder belts or if all lap and shoulder belts other than those in the front seat are being used to restrain other children younger than 16.

11Drivers in Massachusetts may be fined $25 for violating the belt law themselves and $25 for each unrestrained passenger 12-16 years old.

12In Connecticut, unless the total fine and costs imposed for the violation are $10 or less, the person may be ordered to pay a $40 justice system assessment.

13Nebraska's law is secondary for those children who may be in safety belts and standard for those who must be in a child restraint device.

14In Nevada, the minimum fine is $100. An alternative to the fine is at least 10 but not more than 50 hours of community service.

15New York only assesses points when the violation involves a child under 16.

16In Ohio, the law is secondary for children 4 — 14.

17In Oklahoma, children weighing more than 40 pounds may be belted without a booster seat if they are seated in the rear seat of a vehicle with only lap belts or when the lap and shoulder belts are being used by other children who weigh more than 40 pounds.

18Police are prohibited in South Carolina from enforcing safety belt laws at checkpoints designed for that purpose. However, safety belt violations may be issued at license and registration checkpoints to drivers cited for other offenses.

19Drivers 18 and older in Tennessee who choose not to contest the citation pay a $10 fine by mail; drivers who are 16 or 17 pay $20.

20In Virginia, children 4 — 7 years may use an adult belt only if any licensed physician determines that use of a child seat would be impractical because of the child's weight, physical fitness, or other medical reason. The person transporting the must carry the doctor's signed statement.

21Wyoming rewards observed belt use by reducing the fines for other traffic violations by $10.