November 2018

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 29 states and the District of Columbia cover all rear-seat occupants, too.

Belt use laws in only 34 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 safety seat laws

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have child safety seat laws. Child safety seat laws require children to travel in approved child restraints 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 safety seats differs among the states. Young children usually are covered by child safety seat laws, while safety belt laws cover older children and adults.

Because enforcement and fines differ under belt use and child safety seat laws, it's important to know which law is being violated when a child isn't restrained. Most child seat safety laws are primary, meaning police may stop vehicles solely for child safety 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 safety seat. 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 safety 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 safety seat and safety belt laws; still, 15-year-olds riding in the rear seat in Arkansas, Alabama and Ohio, and children age 9 or older who are not taller than 4 feet 9 inches riding in the rear seat in Oklahoma are covered by neither law. All children younger than 16 in the other 46 states and the District of Columbia are covered by one, or both laws.

In April 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement recommending that children ride in rear-facing child safety seats until at least age 2. Previously, the recommendation was rear-facing until at least age 1 and 20 pounds. Since the AAP's change, 12 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia) have updated their child restraint laws accordingly. In August 2018, the AAP further modified its policy statement to eliminate any reference to a numerical age. The current recommendation is for children to ride rear-facing until they reach the rear-facing weight or height limit of their seats.

  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 safety 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 child restraint; 1 through 4 years or 20 - 40 pounds in a forward-facing child restraint; 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 child restraint; 1 through 3 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 $25 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 younger than 2 years and less than 40 pounds and less than 40 inches in a rear-facing infant seat; 7 years and younger who are less than 57 inches must be in an appropriate child passenger restraint system2 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 seat2
CO 07/01/87 no 16+ years in front seat $71 younger than 1 year and less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing child restraint; 1 through 3 years and 20-40 pounds in a child restraint; 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 8+ years in front seat $50 younger than 2 years or less than 30 pounds in a rear-facing child restraint; 2-4 years or between 30-40 pounds in a forward or rear-facing child restraint; 5-7 years or between 40-60 pounds in a forward or rear-facing child restraint or a booster seat secured with a lap and shoulder belt 8 through 15 years and 60+ pounds $503 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 pounds4 8 through 15 years or 66+ pounds4 $25 children 11 years and younger and 65 inches or less must be in rear seat if passenger airbag is active4
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 not permissible5 $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 $156 7 years and younger and 57 inches or less7 more than 57 inches $501 7 years and younger must be in rear seat if available
HI 12/16/85 yes; effective 12/16/85 8+ years in all seats $45 3 years and younger in a child restraint; 4 years through 7 years must be in a child restraint or booster seat 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 $1008 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 younger than 2 years must be in a rear-facing child restraint unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds or is 40 or more inches tall; 7 years and younger (effective 06/01/19) 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 younger9 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 restraint; 1 through 5 years in a child restraint or a booster seat 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; $30/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 7 and younger and more than 57 inches in all seats; 8+ in all seat