Is it Illegal to Ride in the Backseat Without a Seat Belt?

All passengers in every vehicle should wear seatbelts to stay safe, but are backseat passengers required by law to wear one? Let’s explore this question by examining federal and state seat belt laws, why passengers should always wear seat belts and what else you can do to improve your own safety on the road.

Federal Seat Belt Laws

Federal seat belt laws focus on the manufacturers, not driver and passenger usage. All passenger motor vehicles are required to have adequate seat belts in every seat. This includes any commercially-available car, but not buses and some other exceptions.

Basically, every seat in a car needs a safety belt to ensure full passenger safety and driver safety. You won’t be arrested for not using it by federal standards, but every state has their own seat belt laws.

State Seat Belt Laws

Every state except for New Hampshire requires all adult passengers in the front of a car to wear a seat belt. For minors, each state has different laws regarding at what age they need seat belts and booster seats. That kind of safety is important, but backseat seat belt laws are further behind.

Only 39 states have backseat seat belt laws pertaining to adults. The states without them are:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio

Every other state has backseat seat belt laws, but each state enforces them differently.

How States Enforce Backseat Seat Belt Laws

Twenty states, including Alaska, Delaware, and Indiana, use what is known as a primary enforcement. This means that a police officer can pull you over if they observe the driver or passengers without a seat belt.

Eleven states, including Idaho, Kansas, and Maryland, use secondary enforcement for backseat passengers. In these states, police cannot pull over drivers just because an adult in the backseat isn’t wearing a seat belt. If you’re pulled over for any other reason, like speeding or running a traffic light, you can be cited or fined for not adhering to backseat seat belt laws.

Despite what people may think, these aren’t just measures state governments come up with to make more money. States with primary enforcement laws have a higher percentage of seat belt usage than those with secondary enforcement laws or no laws at all. If more states enforce primary backseat seat belt laws, the US may see an even bigger dip in annual car accident injuries and fatalities.

To check how your state enforces backseat seat belt laws, check the Governor’s Highway Safety Association’s state seat belt law index or your local government’s website.

Why You Should Always Wear a Seat Belt

Just because it’s legal for backseat passengers to not wear seat belts in many states doesn’t mean it’s safe. According to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, only 29% of fatally injured backseat passengers older than 13 were wearing seat belts. The vast majority were not.

In many cases, unbuckled backseat passengers bounce around a vehicle’s cabin, resulting in preventable injuries to themselves and their fellow occupants. The University of Washington studied over 70,000 car crashes and found that front-seat occupants are 20% more likely to sustain fatal injuries if people behind them aren’t buckled in.

Unbuckled Backseat Passengers: Legal Consequences

Even if the driver is wearing a seat belt, he or she can still be cited for backseat passengers without seat belts. In many states, the fines for backseat passengers and drivers without seat belts are the same. In New York, a new law allows police to give out $50 tickets for every unbuckled occupant. If you have a car full of friends or family, that total rises quickly.

For unbuckled children, it can be even higher. New York imposes $100 tickets on any driver with unbuckled children in the car whether they’re in the front or backseat.

Penalties don’t stop there, though. While most seat belt violations aren’t moving violations that result in getting points on your license, some states add three points for every unbuckled child. This not only puts you at risk for losing your license, but it can also raise insurance premiums, as well.

What You Can Do to Improve Road Safety

Before you begin any trip, ensure all passengers have their seat belts on. Every passenger without a seat belt, even in the back seat, increases every occupant’s odds of suffering potentially fatal injuries. If that isn’t enough, think of how much less gas money you’ll have if you get pulled over.

Want to reduce the risk of being in an accident? Prepare yourself for the unexpected by completing a defensive driving course. By nature, accidents are unpredictable, but when you learn how to anticipate, identify, and avoid road hazards, you’re more likely to prevent accidents. A defensive driving course not only makes you a safer driver but can also decrease insurance premiums. Many insurance providers offer defensive driving discounts that can save drivers up to 10% annually.

Take an Online Course with DriveSafe Online Defensive Driving School

No matter your reason for taking a defensive driving course, DriveSafe Online lets you do it on your terms. You can complete our defensive driving course in as little as an hour. It’s all online and mobile-friendly so you can do it when and where works for you.

Whether you need to brush up on seat belt safety laws and safe driving tips, want an insurance discount, or are interested in possibly dismissing a ticket, begin by selecting your state to start your online defensive driving course. Always check with your insurance provider and court to make sure they allow online accident prevention courses.