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Effectiveness: 4 Star Cost: $
Use: Low
Time: Short

As of June 2023 a violation of the seat belt law resulted in a fine of $25 to $200 in the majority of States (IIHS, 2023b). Low fines may not convince nonusers to buckle up and may also send a message that seat belt use laws are not taken seriously. Some States use higher fines for first time offenders, the highest being a fine of $200 in Texas (IIHS, 2023b).

Penalties are part of the complete system of well-publicized enforcement of strong seat belt use laws. A nationally representative survey of U.S. adults found that 62.5% of respondents were in favor of raising the fine for not wearing a seat belt to $100. Not surprisingly, among those who reported not regularly wearing a seat belt, support for this and other seat belt policies was lower (Fell, 2019). States should choose penalty levels that strike an appropriate balance; however, without effective enforcement, judicial support, and good publicity, increased penalties may have little effect.


As of June 2023 there were 17 States and the District of Columbia that had penalties of $30 or more for at least some occupants (IIHS, 2023b).


Houston and Richardson (2006) studied the effects of seat belt law type (primary or secondary), fine level, and coverage (front seat only or front and rear seats) using belt use data from 1991 to 2001. They found that primary belt laws and higher fines increase seat belt use.

Nichols, Tippetts, et al. (2010, 2014) examined the relationship between seat belt violation fines and seat belt use and found that increasing fines was associated with increased seat belt use. Increasing a State’s fine from $25 to $60 was associated with increases of 3% to 4% in both observed seat belt use and belt use among front-seat occupants killed in crashes, an effect that was additive with increases attributed to the type of seat belt law. Increasing the fine from $25 to $100 was associated with increases of 6% to 7% for these measures; however, there were diminishing returns for fines above this amount (Nichols, Tippetts, et al., 2014). These studies were conducted when observed seat belt use was lower overall. Increasing fines today may not result in the same gains as seen in these earlier studies. In addition, equity and violators’ financial well-being need to be considered since increasing penalties may be more punitive to some drivers and result in other consequences due to inability to pay.


The direct costs associated with increasing fines are minimal.

Time to implement:

Increased fines can be implemented as soon as they are publicized and appropriate changes are made to the motor vehicle records systems.