Seat Belts

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.

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Law Chart

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.

Sources: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and State Highway Safety Offices.

Short Term Description
Seat belt laws are divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Specific laws vary greatly from state to state, depending on the age of the rider and in which seat he or she is sitting.

Unbuckled in Back: An Overlooked Issue in Highway Safety

Most strategies for encouraging seat belt use by adults focus on drivers and front seat passengers, but rear seat belt use by adults is lower than front seat belt use and warrants attention. In 2013, 883 unbelted rear seat passenger vehicle occupants age 8 and older died in traffic crashes in the United States.

This report takes a close look at the issue by examining rear seat belt use rates, state laws and enforcement, and public education efforts. It makes recommendations for states to help boost rear seat belt use through programs and policies.

Getting It To Click! Connecting Teens And Seat Belt Use

This report, made possible with funding from The Allstate Foundation, details promising programs and practices that states are using to encourage teens to wear their seat belts every time they drive or ride in a vehicle. The programs listed can serve as road maps to other states and stakeholders concerned about keeping young drivers safe on our roads.

Opportunities for improving the response to insufficient teen seat belt use are also identified, as well as recommendations for states to consider as they mobilize resources and programs to address this critical issue.

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