Most of us are taught at a young age to wear a seatbelt while riding in a motor vehicle. There’s good reason for this; Using proper restraints can reduce injury and fatality of car crash victims by nearly 50%. Yet, some people still don’t regularly use their seat belts or child safety restraints, despite overwhelming evidence that these devices save lives.
State laws regarding child safety restraints and seat belt use vary from state-to-state, which has produced variations in the way people utilize such safety equipment.
Mandatory Seat Belt Laws
Not all states have primary enforcement of mandatory seat belt laws. Primary enforcement means that a driver can be pulled over and ticketed for simply not wearing their seatbelt. This law also extends to all passengers in the vehicle, including those sitting in the back seat.
Secondary enforcement means drivers can’t be pulled over solely for not wearing their seatbelt and seat belt requirements may not extend to backseat passengers. These states include: Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Massachusetts.
New Hampshire is the only state without mandatory seat belt laws.
This is important to note as you travel throughout the country, but it also highlights how we get variations in restraint use depending on the region.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitor state and national statistics regarding the use of seat belts and restraints. According to the CDC, the states with the lowest percentage of seat belt use include: South Dakota (67%), New Hampshire (69%), Arkansas (72%), Massachusetts (73%), and Montana (76%).
Child Passenger Safety
While mandatory seat belt laws differ from state-to-state, all states have child passenger laws. Violations of child restraint laws are standard offenses; drivers can be ticketed or fined for violating such laws.
There are, however, differences in state laws regarding the age, weight, or height requirements of child passengers. Child safety seat laws require children to travel in accepted child restraints or booster seats, and some permit older children to use adult safety belts. It is the age at which children may use a seat belt in lieu of a safety seat or booster that varies by state.
For example, Nebraska and Ohio leave some children under a secondary enforcement law, which means that police must have an additional reason to make a stop.
Tennessee and Wyoming are the only states where children as old as 8 must be in a child restraint or booster seat; conversely, South Dakota requires all children 4 and under to be in a child restraint or booster seat.
It is important to know how child passenger laws function in your state.
Seat Belts and Child Restraints Save Lives
Despite variations in state legislation, there are current efforts being made by the CDC, respective state agencies, and nonprofit organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), to promote increased restraint use across the board.
Strategies to increase seat belt and child restraint use include advocating for primary seat belt laws, increasing the penalties for violations, restraint checkpoints, nighttime enforcement programs, and incentive and education programs for parents with child passengers.
Regardless of your state’s mandatory seat belt laws, buckling up is always a good idea. Not only does it promote seat belt use among young passengers, who are the most at risk during a car accident, but seat belt use has been proven to decrease injury and fatalities by as much as 50%.
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