Seat belt laws are divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary seat belt laws allow law enforcement officers to ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt, without any other traffic offense taking place. Secondary seat belt laws state that law enforcement officers may issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only when there is another citable traffic infraction.
- 34 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have primary seat belt laws for front seat occupants.
- 15 states have secondary laws for adult front seat occupants.
- 28 states, D.C., and 2 territories have laws enforcing rear seat belt use. Of these:
- 18 states, D.C. and 2 territories include rear seats as primary enforcement. All are states that also have primary seat belt laws for front seat occupants.
- 10 states include rear seats as secondary enforcement. Four of these are states with primary seat belt laws for front seat occupants. Six are states with secondary laws for adult front seat occupants.
- 22 states do not have laws enforcing rear seat belt use.
- Of states with primary front seat belt use laws, 12 states and the Virgin Islands do not include rear seats
- Of states with secondary front seat belt use laws, 9 states do not include rear seats.
- New Hampshire has enacted neither a primary nor a secondary seat belt law for adults in any seat, although the state does have a primary child passenger safety law that covers all drivers and passengers under 18.
Specific laws vary greatly from state to state, depending on the age of the rider and in what seat he or she is sitting. This page covers seat belt laws for adults and young adults only. For requirements for infants, toddlers, and children, see GHSA's Child Passenger Safety Laws chart.
A PDF chart of state seat belt laws is available for download here.
NOTE: GHSA does not compile any additional data on adult seat belt laws other than what is presented here. For more information, consult the appropriate State Highway Safety Office.
A recent CDC study found that rural Americans are at an increased risk for crash deaths. This article quotes GHSA's coverage of the study in its recent member newsletter.
December 31, 2017
Article by Tanya Mohn
Advice columnist Heloise discusses the importance of buckling up in every seat on every journey, encouraging readers to visit GHSA's website to check the laws in their state.
September 26, 2017
IIHS recently released a study detailing the risks of unbuckled rear seat passengers. This article references GHSA's 2015 "Unbuckled in Back" report, which highlighted the importance of seat belt use in every seat.
August 3, 2017
Article by Cheryl Jensen
A new IIHS study highlights the dangers of being unbuckled in the backseat – echoing GHSA's 2015 spotlight on the issue. With many reporting not buckling up in for-hire vehicles, GHSA's Jonathan Adkins discusses the importance of wearing a seat belt no matter the vehicle.
August 3, 2017
Article by Sophia Tulp
As seat belt fines in Kansas rise, GHSA Senior Director of Communications and Programs Kara Macek discusses the importance of seat belt enforcement and how this law may change driver behavior.
June 30, 2017
Article by Brittany Lane and Ellen Cagle
An increasing number of states are moving to put primary seat belt laws into place. GHSA's Kara Macek speaks to the importance of these laws and of their enforcement.
April 28, 2017
Article by Jenni Bergal