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.
Lee Axdahl, GHSA Treasurer and Director of the South Dakota Office of Highway Safety, highlights the role belts play in eliminating crash fatalities in this article about the state's belt education and enforcement efforts.
Seat belts are the oldest form of occupant protection, with Volvo patenting the first rudimentary seat belt in 1889. However, it wasn't until 1968 that the federal government required seat belts to be installed in all new passenger cars.