Traffic Safety Review: Seat Belts and Child Passenger Safety

11/18/2019

seat belt safety passengers
Introduction

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 37,000 lives were lost on U.S. roads in 2017 due to motor vehicle crashes. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among those ages 1 to 54 in the United States, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

NHTSA’s research indicates that among passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2017 where it was known whether they were wearing a seat belt, 47 percent were unrestrained. In total, 10,076 individuals who died in crashes in 2017 were unrestrained. NHTSA also found that seat belts in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 14,668 lives of occupants aged 5 and older in 2016. An additional 2,456 lives would have been saved in 2016 if all unrestrained passengers involved in fatal crashes had worn their seat belts, estimates NHTSA. For the purpose of this review, it is important to note that statistics from NHTSA are based on “known restraint use”—crashes where it is known whether the occupant was using a seat belt or car seat. Occupants involved in crashes where restraint is unknown have not been considered in NHTSA’s calculations

Driver and occupant attitudes toward seat belt safety laws can be inconsistent with a driver or passenger’s tendency to buckle up. AAA’s 2017 Traffic Safety Culture Index shows that 86.1 percent of drivers said it is unacceptable to drive without wearing a seat belt but 18.6 percent of drivers admitted to doing so in the previous month.

This report examines trends in state laws designed to protect vehicle occupants and enforcement strategies in recent years. Topics reviewed in this report include:

  • Background and History of Seat Belt Laws 
  • Demographic Factors of Seat Belt Use and Enforcement 
  • Federal Occupant Protection Action
  • State Primary and Secondary Seat Belt Enforcement Legislation 
  • State Rear Seat Belt Legislation   
  • State Child Occupant Protection Legislation 
  • Rural Seat Belt Use 

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Executive Summary

Image of seat belts being buckled over a highway.We’ve all heard that buckling up is one of the most effective methods to protect ourselves in a car crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 37,000 lives were lost on U.S. roads in 2017 due to motor vehicle crashes. NHTSA indicates that the national seat belt use rate was 89.6 percent in 2018, a statistically insignificant decrease from 89.7 in 2017. However, among the occupants of passenger vehicles killed in 2017 where it was known whether they were wearing a seat belt, 47 percent were unrestrained.

Given these statistics, lawmakers are actively debating proposals to increase passengers’ safety in the event of a crash. Since 2015, state legislatures have enacted over 40 laws related to seat belts. A handful of states have upgraded their seat belt laws, including changing them from secondary to primary enforcement, which allows police to cite people for not wearing a seat belt without any other traffic offense taking place. Other efforts include requiring both front and rear-seat passengers to use seat belts and increasing penalties for violations. Utah became the 34th state to enact a primary seat belt law for all passengers in 2017. In addition, Mississippi and Utah expanded their laws to require both front and rear passengers to wear seat belts.

Some states have focused on modifying child safety restraint laws to reduce injuries and fatalities among children in vehicle crashes. A total of 13 states—California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington—and the District of Columbia revised their laws to require that children remain in a rear-facing child safety seat until age 2.

This report focuses on seat belt use by occupants, defined as drivers or passengers, of passenger vehicles. NHTSA’s definition of passenger vehicles includes cars, pickup trucks or vans. For the purpose of this review, it is important to note that statistics from NHTSA are based on “known restraint use”—crashes where it is known whether the occupant was using a seat belt or car seat. Occupants involved in crashes where restraint use is unknown have not been considered in NHTSA’s calculations.

Specific topics reviewed in this report include: 

  • An overview of the history of seat belt laws
  • An analysis of demographic factors related to seat belt use and enforcement
  • A review of the federal role in occupant protection 
  • A scan of recent notable state legislative actions on adult seat belt safety and child passenger safety.
     

Background and History of Seat Belt Laws

In 1966, Congress passed the National Motor Vehicle Safety Act, requiring U.S. automakers to install lap seat belts in every vehicle. It was not until 1984 that New York became the first state to enact a law requiring all front-seat occupants to wear seat belts. Other states soon followed, requiring seat belts for all drivers and front-seat passengers, with belt use rising to about 50 percent shortly after each state’s law went into effect, according to the CDC. Now, every state except New Hampshire has an adult safety belt law.

seat belt use rate unrestrained occupants chart 2018

Seat belt use has increased from 70.7 percent in 2000 to 89.6 percent in 2018. According to NHTSA’s latest data on seat belt use rates during the daytime, this increase has accompanied a steady decline in individuals killed in crashes who were not wearing seat belts. 

Over time, many states have enacted primary seat belt laws, allowing law enforcement officers to pull over a driver if occupants are not properly restrained. NHTSA’s research shows seat belt use was higher in 2018 for states with primary seat belt laws compared to states with secondary laws, meaning officers may not stop and ticket a driver for the sole offense of not wearing a seat belt.
 

Demographic Factors of Seat Belt Use and Enforcement

To better understand seat belt behavior and enforcement, traffic safety experts have conducted frequent studies on seat belt use rates and citations for various demographics, including race, age and gender, as well as region and time of day. 

Race

Critics of primary seat belt laws are concerned that such laws would be unequally enforced and disproportionally affect minority populations. NHTSA published a study in 2011 that reviewed 13 states that changed their seat belt laws from primary to secondary since 2000. The report indicates that minorities perceive stricter primary seat belt enforcement than for whites, but the data revealed no differences in ticketing by race. The number of citations for seat belt violations increased for all groups in the states that switched to a primary law. The percentage of citations issued to minorities either decreased or stayed the same in the states with available data, according to the study.  

However, a study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida found that black motorists were stopped and issued seat belt citations in far greater numbers than white motorists. The Florida law requires that every state law enforcement agency annually report the race and ethnicity of seat belt citation recipients. In 2014, black motorists were stopped and cited for a seat belt offense four times more often than white motorists in Escambia County, and three times more often in Palm Beach County.

The ACLU report concludes that although the Florida Department of Transportation’s 2014 study shows that black motorists use seat belts at slightly lower rates than white motorists, it does not explain black people’s higher citation rates. Equal enforcement of seat belt use and other traffic laws in all segments of the population remain a concern for state lawmakers, civil rights groups and enforcement agencies.

Time of Day

According to NHTSA, half of all fatal and injury crashes occur at night. NHTSA’s research reveals that lower rates of seat belt use in the evening may be a contributing factor to the high number of nighttime fatal and injury crashes. NHTSA’s 2017 data show that in crashes where it was known whether occupants were restrained, 40 percent of those killed in the daytime were unrestrained, whereas 55 percent of people killed at night were unrestrained.

Car crash with two vehicles.NHTSA and the Maryland Highway Safety Office conducted and evaluated a three-year joint study of the effectiveness of the state’s high visibility enforcement (HVE) nighttime seat belt program. Evaluation measures included analyzing the changes in day and night seat belt use and crash outcomes, as well as the characteristics of unbelted drivers. The driving records of motorists who received seat belt citations during the HVE period and records of drivers who were not cited for a seat belt violation were also compared. 

The results of the study revealed statistically significant increases in the number of drivers who buckled up at nighttime. At the start of the study in 2011, nighttime belt use observed in the program area was at 90 percent and had increased to 95 percent by December 2013. Observed daytime belt use in the program area started at 91 percent and ended at 95 percent. The study indicates that after the HVE campaign, there was little to no sign that belt use rates were lower at night. 

The analysis of driving records showed that drivers cited for seat belt infractions at night were nearly eight times more likely than drivers not cited to have prior seat belt violations on their records. NHTSA and the Maryland Highway Safety Office note that this finding may emphasize the need to focus traffic law enforcement on this high-risk group of frequent unbelted drivers.
The study provides compelling evidence that high visibility seat belt enforcement can help increase seat belt use rates and could lead to declines in the number of fatal and injury crashes that involve unbelted occupants.

Age

Younger drivers and passengers buckle up far less than older individuals. According to NHTSA, for passenger vehicle occupant fatalities where restraint use was known, the 13 to 15 age group had the highest percentage of unrestrained occupants at 62 percent. Fifty-nine percent of occupants in the 25 to 34 age group were unrestrained, followed by 58 percent for those in the 21 to 24 age group and 53 percent for occupants ages 16 to 20.

NHTSA’s data on known restraint use by age also shows that there were 238 passenger vehicle occupant fatalities among children under age 4 in 2016. Of this group, 21 percent were unrestrained. In the 4 to 7 age group, there were 223 fatalities, 33 percent of which were unrestrained.

Gender

According to NHTSA, 15,411 male occupants were killed in motor vehicle crashes compared to 8,294 female occupants who were killed in 2016. NHTSA data shows that in fatal crashes where restraint use was known, 52 percent of males and 40 percent of females were unrestrained.

A 2018 seat belt use study prepared for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ Highway Safety Office by researchers at Old Dominion University revealed a seat belt use rate of 85.3 percent, the highest rate recorded in Virginia. In addition, drivers were found wearing seat belts more often than passengers. The study showed that 93.7 percent of female drivers on interstates used seat belts whereas 90.5 percent of male drivers on interstates buckled up. The study also showed that women have higher seat belt use rates overall regardless of road type.

Traffic safety experts have also examined possible variances in seat belt use for different genders in rural populations. According to NHTSA, analysis of state HVE campaigns show that observed seat belt use in rural areas is notably low among young males.  (See page 11 for more information on rural seat belt use). 

Region

Seat belt use in the United States in 2017 ranged from 67.6 percent in New Hampshire (the only state without an adult seat belt law) to 97.1 percent in Georgia, according to NHTSA. NHTSA’s data also shows that 23 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Northern Marina Islands had seat belt use rates of 90 percent or higher in 2017. NHTSA concludes that jurisdictions with stricter seat belt laws exhibit higher use rates.

NHTSA’s latest study on seat belt use in the U.S. in 2018 examines four regions: The South, Midwest, West and Northeast. The results show that seat belt use was the highest in the West at 92.7 percent, a significant decrease from 94.5 percent in 2017. Seat belt use in the South was 89.5 percent, 87.1 percent in the Northeast and 89.1 percent in the Midwest.

Seat Belt Use Rates

State or
U.S. Territory

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2016-2017
change

Alabama

90.0

91.4

88.0

89.5

97.3

95.7

93.3

92.0

92.9

0.9

Alaska

86.1

86.8

89.3

88.1

86.1

88.4

89.3

88.5

90.1

1.6

Arizona

80.8

81.8

82.9

82.2

84.7

87.2

86.6

88.0

86.1

-1.9

Arkansas

74.4

78.3

78.4

71.9

76.7

74.4

77.7

75.1

81.0

5.9

California

95.3

96.2

96.6

95.5

97.4

97.1

97.3

96.5

96.2

-0.3

Colorado

81.1

82.9

82.1

80.7

82.1

82.4

85.2

84.0

83.8

-0.2

Connecticut

85.9

88.2

88.4

86.8

86.6

85.1

85.4

89.4

90.3

0.9

Delaware

88.4

90.7

90.3

87.9

92.2

91.9

90.4

91.4

91.4

0.0

District of Columbia

93.0

92.3

95.2

92.4

87.5

93.2

95.5

94.1

93.6

-0.5

Florida

85.2

87.4

88.1

87.4

87.2

88.8

89.4

89.6

90.2

0.6

Georgia

88.9

89.6

93.0

92.0

95.5

97.3

97.3

97.2

97.1

-0.1

Hawaii

97.9

97.6

96.0

93.4

94.0

93.5

92.8

94.5

96.9

2.4

Idaho

79.2

77.9

79.1

79.0

81.6

80.2

81.1

82.9

81.2

-1.7

Illinois

91.7

92.6

92.9

93.6

93.7

94.1

95.2

93.0

93.8

0.8

Indiana

92.6

92.4

93.2

93.6

91.6

90.2

91.9

92.4

93.0

0.6

Iowa

93.1

93.1

93.5

92.4

91.9

92.8

93.0

93.8

91.4

-2.4

Kansas

77.0

81.8

82.9

79.5

80.7

85.7

82.1

87.0

82.0

-5.0

Kentucky

79.7

80.3

82.2

83.7

85.0

86.1

86.7

86.5

86.8

0.3

Louisiana

74.5

75.9

77.7

79.3

82.5

84.1

85.9

87.8

87.1

-0.7

Maine

82.6

82.0

81.6

84.4

83.0

85.0

85.5

85.8

88.9

3.1

Maryland

94.0

94.7

94.2

91.1

90.7

92.1

92.9

90.8

92.1

1.3

Massachusetts

73.6

73.7

73.2

72.7

74.8

76.6

74.1

78.2

73.7

-4.5

Michigan

98.0

95.2

94.5

93.6

93.0

93.3

92.8

94.5

94.1

-0.4

Minnesota

90.2

92.3

92.7

93.6

94.8

94.7

94.0

93.2

92.0

-1.2

Mississippi

76.0

81.0

81.9

83.2

74.4

78.3

79.6

77.9

78.8

0.9

Missouri

77.2

76.0

79.0

79.4

80.1

78.8

79.9

81.4

84.0

2.6

Montana

79.2

78.9

76.9

76.3

74.0

74.0

77.0

76.0

78.0

2.0

Nebraska

84.8

84.1

84.2

78.6

79.1

79.0

79.6

83.3

85.9

2.6

Nevada

91.0

93.2

94.1

90.5

94.8

94.0

92.1

89.4

90.6

1.2

New Hampshire

68.9

72.2

75.0

68.6

73.0

70.4

69.5

70.2

67.6

-2.6

New Jersey

92.7

93.7

94.5

88.3

91.0

87.6

91.4

93.4

94.1

0.7

New Mexico

90.1

89.8

90.5

91.4

92.0

92.1

93.3

92.3

91.5

-0.8

New York

88.0

89.8

90.5

90.4

91.1

90.6

92.2

91.8

93.4

1.6

North Carolina

89.5

89.7

89.5

87.5

88.6

90.6

89.9

91.7

91.4

-0.3

North Dakota

81.5

74.8

76.7

80.9

77.7

81.0

80.4

82.8

79.3

-3.5

Ohio

83.6

83.8

84.1

82.0

84.5

85.0

83.9

83.8

82.8

-1.0

Oklahoma

84.2

85.9

85.9

83.8

83.6

86.3

84.5

86.6

86.9

0.3

Oregon

96.6

97.0

96.6

96.8

98.2

97.8

95.5

96.2

96.8

0.6

Pennsylvania

87.9

86.0

83.8

83.5

84.0

83.6

82.7

85.2

85.6

0.4

Rhode Island

74.7

78.0

80.4

77.5

85.6

87.4

86.7

87.5

88.3

0.8

South Carolina

81.5

85.4

86.0

90.5

91.7

90.0

91.6

93.9

92.3

-1.6

South Dakota

72.1

74.5

73.4

66.5

68.7

68.9

73.6

74.2

74.8

0.6

Tennessee

80.6

87.1

87.4

83.7

84.8

87.7

86.2

88.9

88.5

-0.4

Texas

92.9

93.8

93.7

94.0

90.3

90.7

90.5

91.6

91.9

0.3

Utah

86.1

89.0

89.2

81.9

82.4

83.4

87.2

87.9

88.8

0.9

Vermont

85.3

85.2

84.7

84.2

84.9

84.1

86.0

80.0

84.5

4.5

Virginia

82.3

80.5

81.8

78.4

79.7

77.3

80.9

79.0

85.3

6.3

Washington

96.4

97.6

97.5

96.9

94.5

94.5

94.6

94.7

94.8

0.1

West Virginia

87.0

82.1

84.9

84.0

82.2

87.8

89.0

86.8

89.7

2.9

Wisconsin

73.8

79.2

79.0

79.9

82.4

84.7

85.8

88.4

89.4

1.0

Wyoming

67.6

78.9

82.6

77.0

81.9

79.2

79.8

80.5

84.8

4.3

Nationwide

84

85

84

86

87

86.7

88.5

90.1

89.7

-0.4

Puerto Rico

92.3

NA

91.9

90.2

89.7

89.5

91.8

93.8

87.9

-5.9

American Samoa

60.0

73.0

77.0

75.0

74.9

76.3

77.0

82.9

84.9

2.0

Guam

80.0

85.0

81.0

81.4

93.8

90.1

91.5

90.1

91.0

0.9

No. Mariana Islands

84.6

80.9

93.7

NA

90.5

91.4

95.6

92.3

92.2

-0.1

U.S. Virgin Islands

85.6

86.4

85.6

77.9

76.8

66.1

82.7

79.1

NA

NA

Federal Occupant Protection

The Click It or Ticket (CIOT) program was conceived in North Carolina in 1993. It was the first statewide vehicle occupant protection campaign in the United States. This innovative program combined 3,000 enforcement checkpoints, paid advertising and earned media to build public awareness. During the enforcement, more than 58,000 citations were issued for seat belt violations. State seat belt use rates rose from 65 to 81 percent by July 1994.

These annual mobilizations encouraged local and state governments to implement HVE campaigns and increase media activity to enhance public awareness of seat belt use.

NHTSA continued to promote similar statewide seat belt safety programs, and in 1997 allocated funding to states as a part of an innovative grant program which led to the creation of the National CIOT Mobilizations. This program provided funding for more than 40 states to conduct annual statewide campaigns to increase seat belt use.

NHTSA elevated the CIOT campaign to the national level in 2003 and continues to promote the campaign each year. The campaigns last several weeks, starting with public awareness followed by an HVE period. An evaluation published by NHTSA shows that within the first three years of the campaign, 43 of 50 states and Puerto Rico showed an increase in seat belt use.

NHTSA reports that “from 2005 to 2012, nationally reported seat belt citations have decreased from 25 to 14 per 10,000 residents, a 44 percent decrease.” NHTSA’s 2014 evaluation of CIOT campaigns indicates that although national efforts have grown substantially over the years and seat belt use rates have increased, there are still opportunities to increase awareness and enforcement of seat belt laws.

The nation’s most recent federal surface transportation bill, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, included $305 billion under Section 405 for the National Priority Safety Program. Section 405(b) allocates 13 percent of funds for occupant protection incentive grants. All states are eligible to receive grants, with different criteria for those with a seat belt use rate of 90 percent or more and those with a rate below 90 percent.

To receive funding, each high best use states is required to submit an occupant protection plan as part of its Highway Safety Plan, participate in the national mobilization (Click It or Ticket) effort, manage child restraint inspection stations, and maintain an adequate number of child passenger safety technicians.

Low belt use states are required to meet the same criteria, plus three of the following: Conduct a primary enforcement of their seat belt law; enact and enforce their laws for seat belt and child restraint use for all vehicle occupants; implement programs for high-risk populations such as unrestrained nighttime drivers and teenage drivers; or implement a comprehensive occupant protection program.  

All 52 states and territories that applied for occupant protection incentive grants in FY 2019 qualified for funding.
 

State Legislative Action

State policymakers continue to enact and refine seat belt laws. In 2015, 34 states discussed 77 bills related to seat belt safety and nine bills were enacted. In 2016, a total of 28 states considered 80 bills related to seat belt safety and six bills were enacted. In 2017, 38 states considered 98 bills related to seat belt safety, 11 of which were enacted. In 2018, 39 states considered 115 bills pertaining to safety belts and restraint in areas such as child passenger safety and enforcement of primary seat belt laws. A total of eight bills pertaining to seat belt laws or child passenger safety were enacted in 2018 as of the April 2019 publication of this review.

Some states are considering methods to strengthen their occupant protection laws for adults and child passengers. In recent years, states have increased the fine for seat belt violations in both the rear and front seats. Although almost every state has some sort of seat belt law, certain states with secondary seat belt enforcement laws continue to discuss creating a primary seat belt law. 

State Primary and Secondary Seat Belt Enforcement Legislation

Seat belt laws and enforcement can encourage drivers to buckle up. The foundational question for adult seat belt laws is whether a state has a primary or secondary seat belt law. Thirty-four states have adopted primary enforcement laws for front-seat occupants that allow police officers to stop vehicles solely for a seat belt violation. They are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin, plus the District of Columbia.

Seat belt laws in the other 15 states—Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming—are secondarily enforced for front-seat occupants, meaning police officers must stop the vehicle for another violation before they can issue a seat belt ticket. New Hampshire is the only state without a seat belt law for adults.

state seat belt laws map

 

Utah made a substantial change to its enforcement laws. In 2017 it became the 34th state to enact a primary seat belt law for all passengers. However, the court will waive the fine for a first violation of the requirement that a child under 8 who is 57 inches or taller to be in a child restraint device if the violator submits proof of acquisition, rental or purchase of a child restraint device.

Since 2015, states that have considered, but have not passed, primary seat belt legislation include Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming. Conversely, Arkansas and Minnesota debated changing their laws from primary to secondary. 

Every state except New Hampshire has implemented a monetary fine for each violation of primary and secondary seat belt laws. During the 2016 legislative session, Louisiana increased its maximum fine for a primary seat belt offense from $25 to $50 for a first violation, $50 to $75 for a second offense and $50 to $75 for a third and any subsequent offense (Appendix A on page 12 contains information on state seat belt fines). Kansas also raised its seat belt fine in 2017. A first offense increased from $10 to $30 for a person age 18 or older who is not buckled up while a vehicle is in motion. The bill also directed a portion of paid fines to the state’s Safety Seat Belt Fund to promote children’s safety in vehicles.

The maximum fine for the first violation of a seat belt law is up to $30 in at least 31 states and between $30 and $100 in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Seven states—California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington—fine over $100, pending court fees, for a first offense. Oregon enacted legislation to slightly increase its fine from $110 to $115 in 2017.

State Rear Seat Belt Use Legislation

Back seat passenger wearing seat belt.While most primary and secondary seat belt laws for adults have focused on front-seat passengers, states are making legislative efforts to establish occupant protection laws for rear-seat passengers. According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association’s (GHSA) analysis of NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System data, in 2013, 883 unbelted rear-seat passenger vehicle occupants aged 8 and older died in traffic crashes in the United States. More than 400 of these occupants would have survived a crash if they had been restrained. GHSA also notes that seat belt use by adults in the back of passenger vehicles was about 9 percentage points lower than those in the front in 2013.

A barrier to increasing the use of rear seat belts is the common misconception that the back seat is safer than the front seat. A 2015 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found no difference in the risk of dying in a crash when seated in the rear compared with the front seat for restrained occupants ages 13 to 54. In addition, unrestrained rear-seat occupants were nearly eight times as likely to sustain a severe injury in a crash as restrained rear-seat occupants.

States are acknowledging the risks of riding unrestrained in the rear seat of a motor vehicle. Laws in 28 states and the District of Columbia require passengers in the rear seats of passenger vehicles to be properly buckled up. Laws in 19 of those states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, enforce a primary rear seat belt law for all passengers. In recent years, eight states—Alabama, Connecticut, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Utah and Virginia—have considered bills related to rear seat belt use.

Mississippi and Utah are the only states to enact rear seat belt legislation since 2015. Utah made a substantial change to its seat belt law in 2015, requiring all occupants, including rear-seat occupants, to be buckled up. Mississippi passed a law in 2017 requiring all occupants, whether sitting in the front or back seat, to use a seat belt. This expanded the previous law that only applied to riders in the front seat and children younger than 7 in the back seat. A violation of this primary law carries a maximum fine of $25.  

New York has introduced a handful of bills since 2015 requiring all riders to wear seat belts, but thus far no such legislation has been enacted. The state’s current law prohibits riders 16 years or younger from riding unrestrained in the back seat.
 

Child Passenger Safety

According to NHTSA, of the 37,461 fatal motor vehicle fatalities in the United States in 2016, 1,233 (3 percent) of those fatalities were children under the age of 14. An average of three children aged 14 and under died daily in 2016 due to motor vehicle crashes. NHTSA also notes that although the number of child fatalities has decreased by 27 percent since 2007, the number increased by 8 percent, from 1,144 to 1,233, between 2015 and 2016.

child motor vehicle traffic fatalities chart

The most effective method to protect children in cars is to properly restrain them in an appropriate child restraint system in the back seat. NHTSA estimates that child safety seats have been shown to reduce fatal injury by 71 percent in passenger cars for infants under 1 and by 54 percent for toddlers ages 1 to 4. From 1975 to 2016, NHTSA estimates that 11,274 lives were saved by child restraints (child safety seats or adult seat belts) for children under 5 years old in passenger vehicles.

NHTSA’s recommendations and child restraint guidelines include:

  • For the best possible protection, infants should be kept in the back seat, in rear-facing child safety seat as long as possible—until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer. Once a child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, the child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether.
  • When children outgrow their rear-facing seats, they should ride in forward-facing child safety seats, in the back seat, until they reach the upper weight or height limit of the particular seat.
  • Once children outgrow the forward-facing seats, they should ride in booster seats, in the back seat, until vehicle seat belts fit properly. For a seat belt to fit properly, the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face.

NHTSA notes the primary reasons for injuries to children restrained at the time of motor vehicle crashes relate to “prematurely turning a child forward, premature moving from harnessed safety seats to booster seats, premature moving from booster seats to adult safety belts, misuse of safety restraints and seat belts, and children seated in the front seat of the vehicle.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement in 2011 recommending that children should remain in rear-facing child safety seats until at least age 2. The previous recommendation was rear-facing until at least age 1 and 20 pounds. A total of 13 states—California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia, Washington—and the District of Columbia have adjusted their child safety laws to align with the recommendation.

The AAP issued a new recommendation in August 2018 stating that children should remain in rear-facing safety seats until they reach the highest height or weight recommended by the manufacturer, removing the specific age milestone. AAP’s latest policy statement reveals that although rear-facing appears to be safer than forward-facing for children younger than 2, the injury numbers are not definitive. The lead author of the research, Dr. Benjamin Hoffman states, “We just don’t have a large enough set of data to determine with certainty at what age it is safest to turn children to be forward-facing. If you have a choice, keeping your child rear-facing as long as possible is the best way to keep them safe.”

State Child Passenger Protection Legislation

Every state and the District of Columbia have enacted child restraint laws that require children of certain ages and sizes to ride in appropriate, federally approved child safety restraint systems. Although each state has a law, some laws only cover children up to a certain size or age requirement. According to the CDC, booster seat use reduces the risk of serious injury by 45 percent for children ages 4 to 8 compared with seat belt use alone.

Nebraska passed a law in 2018 that expanded primary enforcement for children up to age 8 who are required to be in a child safety seat. The state’s previous law was primarily enforced for children up to age 6. Children are now also required to ride rear-facing until up to age 2 or until they reach the weight or height limit allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer. The law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Since 2015, states have passed 21 bills related to child passenger protection. During this period, California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia passed laws requiring all children under 2 who do not meet certain height and weight requirements to be buckled into an approved rear-facing child safety seat in the back seat. In addition, some states have hardened their height and weight restraint requirements for child passengers. North Dakota’s law previously required that children under 7 be secured in a child restraint system unless they are over the height or weight limitations of the system. The state passed legislation in 2017 to include all children under 8 who are less than 57 inches tall. Children under 8 who are at least 57 inches tall must be correctly buckled in a seat belt. (Appendix B on page 16 contains information on state child passenger safety laws).

Illinois and Virginia most recently enacted legislation in 2018 pertaining to rear-facing child restraint systems. Both states now require that children under the age of 2 must be restrained in a rear-facing child safety seat unless the child meets the minimum height and weight requirement.

Rhode Island enacted a law in 2017 that requires all children under the age of 2 or weighing less than 30 pounds to be restrained in a rear-facing car seat. Children 2 years of age or older who have outgrown their rear-facing car seat by height or weight are permitted to use a forward-facing car seat with a harness. Oregon’s 2017 legislation requires children under 2 years old to be fastened in a rear-facing child safety seat.

Pennsylvania changed its age limit in 2016, requiring all children under 2 who have not outgrown manufacturers’ weight limits to be buckled into a rear-facing child safety seat. During the first year the law was in effect, officers were permitted to give verbal warnings to parents for a first offense and issue a $75 citation plus additional fees for subsequent offenses.

States have also toughened their penalties for child protection seat belt violations. Pennsylvania instituted a $75 penalty for a first offense for adult drivers who do not meet the rear-facing child safety seat requirements. In 2017, Mississippi enacted a law imposing a maximum fine of $25 on motor vehicle operators who do not properly restrain child passengers in the required restraint device. 

Rural Seat Belt Use

Seat belt use in America’s most rural areas is a concern for lawmakers and traffic safety experts. There were 17,216 fatalities caused by motor vehicle crashes in rural areas in 2017, according to NHTSA. NHTSA’s data also shows that rural seat belt use in 2018 slightly surpassed urban seat belt use at 90.1 percent, compared to 89.4 percent in urban locations. Although rural seat belt use was somewhat higher in urban areas in 2018, NHTSA indicates that seat belt use rates are quite low on rural roads in states with secondary seat belt enforcement laws and among drivers of pickup trucks.

Furthermore, a 2017 study published by the CDC of rural drivers 18 and older indicates that in addition to low belt use, the more rural the area, the higher the risk. The study shows that as the number of unbelted occupants increased, the rurality increased. Some of the significant factors the CDC lists that affect higher death rates in rural areas include high speeds, roadway characteristics such as a lack of paved road shoulders, and the higher proportions of older adults that are at increased risk for severe injury or death after a crash.  

To increase seat belt use in rural areas, states have explored methods of enforcement to encourage drivers and passengers to buckle up. HVE has become a common strategy in nearly every state to enforce seat belt laws in both rural and urban areas, according to NHTSA. After New York enacted the first seat belt law, states began piloting HVE methods. NHTSA’s data shows that North Carolina’s Click it or Ticket program in 1993 resulted in a 17-point increase in seat belt usage, with the largest gains found in rural areas. 

Kansas and Missouri ran a demonstration project from 2008 to 2010 to address low belt use in rural counties. Using the HVE model, the states bolstered their public education and enforcement strategies. Kansas conducted five two-week media and enforcement waves over the course of two years. Missouri conducted month-long enforcement and media effort each fall in addition to Click it or Ticket activities during the Memorial Day holiday. NHTSA notes that the demonstrations resulted in increased seat belt use for many of the rural counties participating in the project in both states; however, some counties experienced a decrease or no change in seat belt use. Seat belt use in Kansas’s rural areas increased from 61 percent to 66 percent but Missouri did not see significant increases in belt use. Kansas adopted a primary seat belt law for front-seat passengers in 2010 to increase statewide belt use.

Appendix A

Ages 8+ in front seat; ages 8 through 15 in all seats

Appendix A—Safety Belt Laws 2018

State/

Jurisdiction

Primary
Enforcement

Who Is Covered?
In What Seats?

Maximum Fine
First Offense

Alabama

Yes

Ages 15+ in front seat

$25

Alaska

Yes

Ages 16+ in all seats

$15

Arizona

No

$10

Arkansas

Yes

Ages 15+ in front seat

$25 (1)  (plus court costs and city/county jail fines)

California

Yes

Ages 16+ in all seats

$20 ($20 fine + $142 in penalties and assessments)

Colorado

No (primary for occupants under
age 18)

Ages 16+ in front seat

$71

Connecticut

Yes

Ages 8+ in front seat

Ages 18 and younger: $92 ($50 fine + $7 fee + $35 surcharge); ages 18+: $120 ($75 fine + $10 fee + $35 surcharge)

Delaware

Yes

Ages 16+ in all seats

$25

Florida

Yes

Ages 6+ in front seat; ages 6 through 17 in all seats

$30

Georgia

Yes

Ages 8 through 17 in all seats; ages 18+ in front seat

15 (3)

Hawaii

Yes

Ages 8+ in all seats

$112 (including administrative fees)

Idaho

No (primary for drivers under age 18)

Ages 7+ in all seats

$10 (drivers under 18 pay $51.50, including court costs)

Illinois

Yes

Ages 16+ in all seats

$25 (plus court fees)

Indiana

Yes

Ages 16+ in all seats

$25

Iowa

Yes

Ages 18+ in front seat

$127.50 (including court costs)

Kansas

Yes (secondary for rear-seat occupants younger than age 18)

Ages 14+ in all seats; 18+ in front seat

Ages 14-17: $60; Ages 18+: $30

Kentucky

Yes

Ages 7 and younger and more than 57” in all seats; ages 8+ in all seats

$25

Louisiana

Yes

Ages 13+ in all seats

$25

Maine

Yes

Ages 18+ in all seats

$50

Maryland

Yes (secondary for rear-seats)

Ages 16+ in all seats

$83 (fine plus court costs)

Massachusetts

No

Ages 13+ in all seats

25 (4)

Michigan

Yes

Ages 16+ in front seat

$25

Minnesota

Yes

Ages 7 and younger and more than 57” in all seats; ages 8+ in all seats

$25 (plus approx. $75 court fee)

Mississippi

Yes

Ages 7+ and 57” or taller or 65 lbs. or more in all seats

$25

Missouri

No (primary for children ages 16 and younger)

Ages 16+ in front seat

Ages 8 through 15 in all seats: $50; ages 16 and younger in front seats: $10

Montana

No

Ages 6+ in all seats

$20

Nebraska

No

Ages 18+ in front seat

$25

Nevada

No

Ages 6+ in all seats

$25

New Hampshire

No law

No law

No law

New Jersey

Yes      (secondary for rear seat occupants)

Ages 7 and younger and more than 57”; ages 8+ in all seats

$46 (including court costs)

New Mexico

Yes

Ages 18+ in all seats

25 (2)

New York

Yes

Ages 16+ in front seat

50 (5)

North Carolina

Yes (secondary for rear-seat occupants)

Ages 16+ in all seats

$25 + $135.50 in court costs; $10 + no court costs for rear seats

North Dakota

No

Ages 7 and younger and less than 57” in all seats; Ages 18+ in front seat.

$20

Ohio

No

Ages 8 through 14 in all seats; ages 15+ in front seat

$30 driver; $20 passenger

Oklahoma

Yes

Ages 9+ in front seat

$20

Oregon

Yes

Ages 16+ in all seats

$115

Pennsylvania

No (primary for ages 18 and younger)

Ages 8 through 17 in all seats; ages 18+ in front seat

$10

Rhode Island

Yes

Ages 18+ in all seats

$40

South Carolina

Yes (6)

Ages 6+ in all seats

$25

South Dakota

No

Ages 18+ in front seat

$25

Tennessee

Yes

Ages 16+ in front seat

$25

Texas

Yes

Ages 7 and younger and more than 57”; ages 8+ in all seats

Ages 15 and older or passenger: $50; ages 16 and younger: $200 driver

Utah

Yes

Ages 7 and younger and less than 57’’ in all seats; Ages 8+ in all seats.

45 (7)

Vermont

No

Ages 18+ in all seats

$25

Virginia

No

Ages 18+ in front seat

$25

Washington

Yes

Ages 16+ in all seats

$124

West Virginia

Yes

Ages 8+ in front seat; ages 8 through 17 in all seats

$25

Wisconsin

Yes

Ages 8+ in all seats

$10

Wyoming

No

Ages 9+ in all seats

$25 (8) driver; $10 passenger

District of Columbia

Yes

Ages 16+ in all seats

$502

Puerto Rico

Yes

Ages 9+ or children taller than 57”

$50

U.S. Virgin Islands

Yes

All ages in front seat

$25-$250

Notes

  1. Arkansas rewards observed belt use by reducing the traffic fine for other traffic violations by $10.
  2. This jurisdiction (New Mexico) assesses points for violations.
  3. In Georgia, the maximum fine is $25 if the child is between the ages of 6 and 18.
  4. Drivers in Massachusetts can be fined $25 for violating the belt law themselves and $25 for each unrestrained passenger age 12 to 16.
  5. New York assesses points only when the violation involves a child under age 16.
  6. Police are prohibited in South Carolina from enforcing safety belt laws at checkpoints not designed for that purpose. However, safety belt violations may be issued at license and registration checkpoints to drivers cited for other offenses.
  7. Utah will waive the fine for the first violation if the person submits proof of acquisition, rental or purchase of a child restraint device.
  8. Wyoming rewards observed belt use by reducing the traffic fine for other traffic violations by $10.
     

Appendix B

Appendix B—State Laws on Child Restraint 2018

State/Jurisdiction

Must Be in Child Restraint

Adult Safety Belt Permissible

Maximum Fine

Alabama (14)

Younger than age 1 or less than 20 pounds must be in a rear-facing infant seat; ages 1 through 4 or 20-40 pounds in a forward-facing child restraint; age 5 but not yet age 6 in a booster seat

Ages 6 through 14; the law states no preference for rear seat.

25 (1)

Alaska

Children younger than age 1 or who weigh less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing infant seat; ages 1 through 3 and 20 pounds or more in a child restraint; ages 4 through 8 who are shorter than 57” and who weigh more than 20 pounds but less than 65 pounds in a booster seat or child safety seat

Ages 4 through 7 who are at least 57” and 65+ pounds; ages 8 through 15 who are shorter than 57” and weigh less than 65 pounds; law states no preference for rear seat

50 (1)

Arizona

Ages 4 and younger; ages 5 through 7 who are 57” or shorter must use a booster seat

Ages 5 through 7 who are taller than 57”; up to age 16; law states no preference for rear seat

$50

Arkansas (14)

Ages 5 and younger and less than 60 pounds

Ages 6 through 14 or 60+ pounds; law states no preference for rear seat

$100

California

Younger than age 2, less than 40 pounds, or shorter than 40” in a rear-facing infant seat; ages 7 and younger who are less than 57” (2)

Ages 8 through 15 or at least 57”; ages 7 and younger who are less than 57” must be in rear seat

100 (1)

Colorado

Younger than age 1 and less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing infant seat; ages 1 through 3 and 20-40 pounds in a child safety seat; ages 4 through 7 in a forward-facing car seat or booster seat

Ages 8 through 15; children under age 1 and less than 20 pounds must be in rear seat if available

$81

Connecticut

Younger than age 2 and less than 30 pounds in rear-facing restraint; ages 2 through 4 or weighing less than 40 pounds in a rear- or forward-facing child restraint system; ages 5 through 7 or weighs between 40 and 60 pounds in a child restraint system

Ages 8 and older and weighing at least 60 pounds; all rear-facing child restraint systems shall be in the back seat if the vehicle has a functional passenger side airbag

$92 (3)

Delaware

Ages 7 and younger and less than 66 pounds (4)

Ages 8 through 15 or weighs at least 65 pounds; 4 children ages 11 and younger or 65” or less must be in rear seat if passenger airbag is active

$25

Florida

Ages 5 and younger

Ages 6 through 17; ( 5)  law states no preference for rear seat

$60 (1)

Georgia

Ages 7 and younger or 57” or shorter

Age 8 and above or taller than 57”; children age 7 and younger must be in rear seat if available (6)

$50 (1)

Hawaii

Ages 3 and younger in a child safety seat; ages 4 through 7 must be in a booster seat or child restraint

Ages 8 and above; ages 4 through 7 who are taller than 57”; ages 4 through 7 who are at least 40 pounds seated in a rear seat where, if there are no available lap/shoulder belts, they can be restrained by a lap belt

$100 (7)

Idaho

Ages 6 and younger

Ages 7 and up; law states no preference for rear seat

$79

Illinois

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; ages 7 and younger (eff. 06/01/19)

Ages 8 through 15; children who weigh more than 40 pounds may wear only a lap belt when seated in rear where a shoulder belt is not available; law states no preference for rear seat

$75 ($200 for subsequent offenses)

Indiana

Ages 7 and younger (8)

Ages 8 through 15; law states no preference for rear seat

$25 (1)

Iowa

Younger than age 1 and less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing child restraint; ages 1 through 5 in a child restraint or booster

Ages 6 through 17; law states no preference for rear seat

$100

Kansas

All children ages 3 and younger must be in a child restraint; children ages 4 through 7 who weigh less than 80 pounds and children ages 4 through 7 who are less than 57” must be in a child restraint or booster seat

All children ages 8 through 13; children ages 4 through 7 who weigh more than 80 pounds; children ages 4 through 7 who are taller than 57”; law states no preference for rear seat

$60

Kentucky

Children 40” or less must be in a child restraint; children ages 7 and younger who are between 40” and 57” must be in a booster seat

Taller than 57”; law states no preference for rear seat

$50 child restraint; $30 booster seat

Louisiana

Younger than age 1 or less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing child safety seat; ages 1 through 3 or 20-40 pounds in a forward-facing safety seat; ages 4 through 5 or 40-60 pounds in a child booster seat

Ages 6 through 12 or more than 60 pounds; younger than age 6 or less than 60 pounds must sit in the rear seat if the passenger side front airbag is active

$100

Maine

Less than 40 pounds in a child safety seat; 40-80 pounds and younger than age 8 in a child restraint or booster seat

Ages 8 through 17 or younger than age 18 and more than 57”; ages 11 and younger and less than 100 pounds must be in rear seat if available

$50 ($250 for subsequent offenses)

Maryland

Ages 7 and younger and less than 57”

Ages 8 through 15; children who are at least 57”; law states no preference for rear seat

$50

Massachusetts

Ages 7 and younger and less than 57”

Ages 8 through 12; children who are at least 57”; law states no preference for rear seat

$25

Michigan

Ages 7 and younger and less than 57”

Ages 8 through 15 or children who are at least 57”; ages 3 and younger must be in the rear seat if available

$10 if child is age 4 or younger; $25 if child is between ages 4 through 8 and under 4’9”

Minnesota

Ages 7 and younger and less than 57”

Not permissible

$50

Mississippi (14)

Ages 3 and younger must be in a child restraint; ages 4 through 6 and either less than 57” or weighs less than 65 pounds must be in a booster seat

Ages 6 and older who weigh 65 pounds or more or are at least 57”; law states no preference for rear seat

$25

Missouri

Ages 3 and younger must be in child restraint; all children who weigh less than 40 pounds must be in a child restraint; ages 4 through 7 who weigh at least 40 pounds but less than 80 pounds and who are shorter than 57” must be in either a child restraint or booster seat

All children who weigh 80 pounds or more or are taller than 57”; all children who weigh 80 pounds or more or who are taller than 57”; a child who would otherwise be required to be in a booster seat may ride in the back seat of a vehicle while wearing only a lap belt if the back seat of the vehicle is not equipped with a combination lap and shoulder belt for booster seat installation

$50; $10 for violations involving children taller than 57” or who weigh more than 80 pounds

Montana

Ages 5 and younger and less than 60 pounds

Not permissible; law states no preference for rear seat

$100

Nebraska

Age 2 or younger must remain in a rear-facing child restraint unless the child reaches the minimum weight prescribed by the manufacturer; 7 years and younger must be in a child safety seat

Ages 6 through 17;9 law states no preference for rear seat

$25 (1)

Nevada

Ages 5 and younger and 60 pounds or less

Not permissible; law states no preference for rear seat

$500 (10)  ($100 minimum)

New Hampshire

Ages 6 and younger and less than 57”

Ages 7 through 17; ages 7 and younger who are at least 57”; law states no preference for rear seat

$50

New Jersey

Younger than age 2 and less than 30 pounds in a rear-facing child restraint; ages 3 and younger who are less than 40 pounds in a rear-facing child seat until the child outgrows the manufacturer’s maximum height or weight recommendations or in a forward- forward-facing child safety seat; ages 7 and younger and less than 57”, seated in forward-facing child seat until child outgrows the manufacturer’s maximum height or weight recommendations or a booster seat

Not permissible; children ages 7 and younger who are less than 57” must be in the rear seat if available; no child shall be secured in a rear-facing child restraint in the front seat of any vehicle that is equipped with an active passenger-side airbag

$75

New Mexico

Younger than age 1 in a rear-facing infant seat, seated in the rear seat if available; children ages 1 through 4 or less than 40 pounds in a child safety seat; ages 5 through 6 or less than 60 pounds in booster seat

Ages 7 through 17

$25

New York

Younger than 2 years must remain in a rear-facing child restraint unless the child reaches the minimum weight prescribed by the manufacturer; ages 4 and younger and weighing under 40 pounds need to be in a child restraint; if a child 7 or younger weighs more than 40 pounds and is seated where there is no available lap/shoulder belt, the child may wear a lap safety belt

Ages 8 through 15; law states no preference for rear seat

$100 (1)

North Carolina

Ages 7 and younger and less than 80 pounds

Ages 8 through 15 and children 40-80 pounds in seats without shoulder belts; children ages 4 and younger who weigh less than 40 pounds must be in the rear seat unless the front passenger-side airbag is deactivated or the child safety seat is designed for use with airbags

$25 (1) ($188 court fees)

North Dakota

Ages 7 and younger and less than 57”

Ages 8 through 17; ages 7 and younger and at least 57” tall; law states no preference for rear seat

$25 (1)

Ohio (14)

Ages 3 and younger or less than 40 pounds in child restraint; ages 4 through 7 who are shorter than 57” must be in booster seat or child restraint

Ages 8 through 14 (11); law states no preference for rear seat

$75 (1)

Oklahoma (14)

Children younger than 2 years must be in a rear-facing child restraint or until the child reaches the height or weight limit of the system. Children ages 4 and younger in a child restraint; ages 4 through 7 and less than 57” need to be in a child restraint or booster seat.

Age 8 years and older; children who are taller than 57”; law states no preference for rear seat

$50 (maxi- mum $207.90 with court fees)

Oregon

Children age 2 or younger must be in a rear-facing child safety seat; child who weighs less than 40 pounds must be in a child restraint; child who weighs more than 40 pounds and is 57” or shorter must be in booster seat

Ages 8 and above children taller than 57”; law states no preference for rear seat

$110

Pennsylvania

Younger than 2 years in a rear-facing child restraint until child outgrows manufacturer’s top height or weight recommendations; children ages 2 through 3 years must be in a forward-facing child safety seat; ages 4 through 7 must be in a booster seat

Ages 8 through 17; law states no preference for rear seat

$75

Rhode Island

Children 2 and younger or less than 30 pounds must be in a rear-facing child restraint; Ages 7 and younger and less than 57” and less than 80 pounds

Ages 8 through 17; ages 7 and younger who either weigh more than 80 pounds or who are taller than 57”; children age 7 and younger must be in rear seat if available

$85; $40 for children between ages 8 through 17

South Carolina

Ages 2 and younger must be in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system in rear passenger seat of vehicle. A child at least age 2, or a child under 2 who has outgrown his rear-facing child passenger restraint system, must be in a forward-facing child passenger restraint system; ages 4 through 7 who outgrow forward-facing child restraint must be in a belt positioning booster using lap/ shoulder belts

Ages 8 and older or 57” or taller; children ages 4 and younger must be in rear seat if available

$150

South Dakota

Ages 4 and younger and less than 40 pounds

Ages 5 through 17; all children who weigh more than 40 pounds regardless of age; law states no preference for rear seat

$25

Tennessee

Younger than age 1 or weighing 20 pounds or less must be in a rear-facing child seat; ages 1 through 3 who weigh more than 20 pounds must be restrained in a forward-facing child seat; ages 4 through 8 and less than 57” in a booster seat

Ages 9 through 15; children age 8 and younger and less than 57” must be in a rear seat if available; ages 9 through 12 or a child through age 12 and 57” or taller are encouraged to be seated in rear seat, if available

$50

Texas

Ages 7 and younger and less than 57”

Ages 8 through 16 or 57” or taller; law states no preference for rear seat

$25 minimum (maximum unlisted)

Utah

Ages 7 and younger and shorter than 57”

Ages 8 and older; children 57” or taller; law states no preference for rear seat

$45

Vermont

Younger than age 1 or less than 20 pounds in a rear-facing child restraint seat; ages 1 through 7 and more than 20 pounds in child restraint

Ages 8 through 17; children age 1 and younger or less than 20 pounds must be in rear seat unless the front passenger-side airbag is deactivated

$25

Virginia

Younger than 2 years must remain in a rear-facing child restraint unless the child reaches the minimum weight for front-facing as prescribed by the manufacturer; ages 7 and younger remain in a child safety seat

Ages 8 through 17 (13); children in a rear-facing child restraint must be in a rear seat if available; if not available, they may be placed in front seat only if front passenger airbag is deactivated

$50

Washington

Ages 7 and younger and shorter than 57”

Ages 8 through 15; ages 7 and younger and 57” or taller; children who weigh more than 40 pounds in a seating position where only a lap belt is available; ages 12 and younger must be in rear seat if practical

$124

West Virginia

Ages 7 and younger and shorter than 57”

Ages 8 through 17; Ages 7 and younger and 57” or taller; law states no preference for rear seat

$20

Wisconsin

Children younger than age 1 and all children who weigh less than 20 pounds must be in a rear-facing child safety seat; children ages 1 through 3 or who weigh at least 20 pounds but less than 40 pounds must be in a rear- or forward-facing child safety seat; children ages 4 through 7, weigh at least 40 pounds but less than 80 pounds, and who are 57” tall or less must be in a child restraint or booster seat

Ages 8 and older; children weighing more than 80 pounds or are 57” or taller; ages 3 and younger must be in a rear seat, if available

$75

Wyoming

Ages 8 and younger

Not permissible; ages 8 and younger must be in rear seat, if available

$50

District of Columbia

Ages 7 and younger

Ages 8 through 15; law states no preference for rear seat

7$5 (1)

Puerto Rico

Ages 3 and younger must be in a child safety seat; children ages 4 through 8 or less than 57” must be in a booster seat

Ages 9 and older or 57” or taller; children younger than age 12 must be in a rear seat, if possible.

$100

U.S. Virgin Islands

Children up to 1 year of age or at least 20 pounds must be in a rear-facing child safety seat in the rear of the vehicle; children 1 through 4 years and at least 40 pounds must be in a child restraint system; children who have outgrown their forward-facing child safety seats or children who are under age 8, between 40 and 80 pounds, and less than 57” tall must sit in a booster seat.

Children ages 14 and older; children 13 years and younger shall always ride in the rear seat of vehicles that are equipped with air bags

$75-$500

Notes

  1. This state assesses points for violations.
  2. In California, children weighing more than 40 pounds may be belted without a booster seat if they are seated in the rear of a vehicle not equipped with lap/shoulder belts. The California rear seat requirement does not apply if: there is no rear seat; the rear seats are side-facing jump seats; the rear seats are rear-facing seats; the child passenger restraint system cannot be installed properly in the rear seat; all rear seats are already occupied by children under age 12; or medical reasons necessitate that the child not ride in the rear seat. A child may not ride in the front seat of a motor vehicle with an active passenger airbag if the child is riding in a rear-facing child restraint system.
  3. The fine in Connecticut is $15 if the child is age 4 to 16 and 40 pounds or more. Connecticut also requires a child restraint education program for first or second violations.
  4. In Delaware, children younger than age 12 or 65 inches or less must be restrained in a rear seat if a vehicle has a passenger airbag, unless the airbag either has been deactivated or designed to accommodate smaller people. Exceptions: If there is no rear seat or rear seat is occupied by other children younger than age 12 or 65 inches or less.
  5. In Florida, the child restraint device requirement does not apply to children ages 4 through 5, when a safety belt is used and the child is either being transported by an operator who is not a member of the child’s immediate family, in an emergency or has a documented medical condition that necessitates an exception.
  6. In Georgia, children weighing more than 40 pounds can be restrained in the back seat of a vehicle by a lap belt if the vehicle is not equipped with lap and shoulder belts or when the lap and shoulder belts are being used by other children who weigh more than 40 pounds
  7. Hawaii drivers are charged $50 for a mandatory child restraint education program and $10 for a surcharge that is deposited into a neurotrauma special fund.
  8. In Indiana, children weighing more than 40 pounds can be restrained by a lap belt if the vehicle is not equipped with lap and shoulder belts or if all lap and shoulder belts other than those in the front seat are being used to restrain other children who are younger than age 16.
  9. Nebraska’s law is secondary for those children who may be in safety belts and standard for those who must be in a child restraint device.
  10. In Nevada, the minimum fine is $100. An alternative to the fine is at least 10 hours but not more than 50 hours of community service.
  11. In Ohio, the law is secondary for children ages 4 through 14.
  12. In Oklahoma, children weighing more than 40 pounds can be restrained in the back seat of a vehicle by a lap belt if the vehicle is not equipped with lap and shoulder belts or when the lap and shoulder belts are being used by other children who weigh more than 40 pounds
  13. In Virginia, children at least age 4 but younger than age 8 may be belted if any licensed physician determines that use of a child restraint system by a particular child would be impractical by reason of the child’s weight, physical fitness or other medical reason, provided that any person transporting a child so exempted shall carry on his person or in the vehicle a signed written statement of the physician identifying the child so exempted and stating the grounds for the determination.
  14. In Arkansas, Alabama and Ohio, 15-year-olds riding in the rear seat; in Mississippi, children ages 7 and older riding in the rear seat; and in Oklahoma, children ages 13 through 15 riding in the rear seat are not covered by either adult safety belt laws or child safety seat laws.