Standard (Primary) Safety Belt Model Law
National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances
June 16, 1997
Reprinted with permission
Purpose: The purpose of this legislation is to reduce injuries and fatalities on the streets, roads and highways by requiring all drivers and all passengers to wear safety belts meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards while riding in motor vehicles and by authorizing primary enforcement.
Section 1: Title
This act may be cited as the [State’s] Safety Belt Use Act.
Section 2: Definitions
As used in this act:
(a) “Motor vehicle” means any motor vehicle having a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less that is required to be equipped with safety belts by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Primary No. 208. Passenger cars are required to have belts if built after December 31, 1967. Light trucks and multi-purpose vehicles are required to have safety belts if built after December 31, 1971.
(b) “Driver” means a person who drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle.
(c) “Safety belt” means any strap, webbing, or similar device designed to secure a person in a motor vehicle including all necessary buckles and other fasteners, and all hardware designed for installing such safety belt assembly in a motor vehicle.
Section 3: Application
This act shall apply to drivers and all occupants of motor vehicles on the streets, roads, and highways of this State.
Section 4: Operation of motor vehicles with safety belts.
(a) Each driver of a motor vehicle in this State shall have a safety belt meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards properly fastened about his or her body at all times when operating a motor vehicle.
[(b) Alternate 1 - The driver of a motor vehicle in this State shall not operate a motor vehicle unless the driver secures or causes to be secured in a properly adjusted and fastened safety belt or child restraint system meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards all passengers and secures any passenger 12 or younger in the rear seat, unless all available rear seats are in use by other passengers 12 or younger.]
[(b) Alternate 2 - The driver of a motor vehicle in this State shall not operate a motor vehicle unless every occupant is secured in a properly adjusted and fastened safety belt or child restraint system meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards and consistent with the [State’s] child restraint use law.]
(c) Every occupant of a motor vehicle in this State shall have a safety belt meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards properly fastened about his or her body at all times when the vehicle is in operation.
Section 5: Exemptions
(a) The provisions of sections (4) (c) shall not apply to children covered by [cite to the State’s child restraint use act or law].
(b) The provisions of section (4) shall not apply to persons with a physically disabling condition whose physical disability would prevent appropriate restraint in safety belts, provided, however, such condition is duly certified by a physician who shall state the nature of the condition, as well as the reason such restraint is inappropriate.
(c) The provisions of this law shall not apply to passenger cars built prior to December 31, 1967 and possessing no safety belts.
(d) The provisions of this law shall not apply to passenger vehicles which are not required
to be equipped with safety belts under federal law.
Section 6: Penalties
A person who violates section (4) (a), (b), or (c) of this act shall be punished by a fine of not less than $25.00 nor more than $50.00, [and court costs].
On the Purpose:
In the absence of limitations on enforcement, all laws authorize standard (“primary”) enforcement. Consequently, no special language is needed to authorize primary enforcement of safety belt laws.
Secondary safety belt laws uniquely restrict enforcement by specifying that officers may not issue a citation solely for a belt infraction, but also must have another legal reason to stop the vehicle.
This model law is a primary law. Nevertheless, the drafters strongly recommend use of the term “standard safety belt use law” in describing this or any other safety belt law which does not restrict enforcement because the absence of a secondary provision limiting enforcement merely establishes an enforcement standard comparable to other traffic laws.
This model is intentionally silent on the admissibility in civil lawsuits of evidence of noncompliance with safety belt usage requirements.
The drafting committee notes that a number of proposals have been made (and some enacted) which would alter State tort law as applied to lawsuits arising from traffic crashes where potential plaintiffs were not wearing a safety belt. Some of these proposals would require that such noncompliance always be admissible evidence, while others would stipulate that noncompliance with a safety belt law could never be admitted into evidence. The drafting committee believes that no such provision(s) should be included in any safety belt law, and any such provisions now enacted should be repealed, in order to allow the application of traditional State tort law to determine civil lawsuit evidentiary questions.
On Section 4(b)
In the event of a crash, the rear seat is the safer seating position. The drafters recommend language to provide maximum protection to children 12 and under (4(b) Alternate 1). This issue is particularly important in light of injuries and fatalities that have occurred when infants and young children have gotten in the path of an air bag early in its inflation. The risk is greatest for infants in rear-facing child restraints and unbelted children traveling in the front seats of vehicles with passenger side air bags.
On Section 5
Taxicab exemptions are common. The following additional Section 5 (e) is offered to exempt drivers from responsibility for adult passengers but not for underage passengers. [(e) The provisions of Section (4) (b) shall not apply to taxicab drivers [with regard to passengers age 18 or older].”
On Section 6:
License sanctions (e.g., “points”) have been shown to be among the most effective methods of increasing compliance with traffic laws. Survey research has demonstrated that persistent safety belt law violators are unwilling to use safety belts even when high fines are imposed. They report that license sanctions would, however, increase their compliance. The following is offered for those legislators wishing to consider imposition of points or other license sanctions for violators of the Safety Belt Law.
For States with point systems:
“Section 6: (b) A person who violates Section 4 (a) or (b) of this act shall be assessed 2 points.”
For States that do not have point systems:
“Section 6: (b) Violation of Section 4 (a) or (b) shall be considered a minor moving offense for the purpose of driver license records.”
States may choose to raise the upper limit of the range of fines, but should not consider reducing the lower limit of the range.