Increased Seat Belt Fines
When a driver or passenger is ticketed for not wearing a seat belt, he or she is required to pay a fine for that violation. The fine amount depends on the seat belt law in the state,1,2 and state seat belt fines vary considerably.2 Low seat belt fines might not be a large enough penalty to change belt use behaviors and might also imply that seat belt laws are not taken seriously.1
One of the interventions in MV PICCS is to increase seat belt fines by $75 if a state has an existing fine less than $70. This is a significant increase over existing seat belt fines in most states.2
Using seat belts correctly and consistently is the most effective way to reduce injuries and save lives in crashes.1 Seat belts are designed to help keep occupants inside vehicles and lower the risk of being ejected if a crash occurs.2,3 They also gradually decelerate the occupants which spreads crash forces across the stronger parts of the body.2,3 Seat belts reduce harmful contact between the occupants and the vehicle interior.2,3 Seat belts also prevent occupants from becoming projectiles and injuring others in the vehicle.2,3 Seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.4 Seat belts were estimated to have saved the lives of 14,955 passenger vehicle occupants in 2017 alone; an additional 2,549 lives could have been saved that year with 100% seat belt use.5
Higher seat belt fines are effective at increasing seat belt use. A study examining national seat belt use data from 1991–2001 found that each $1 increase in a state seat belt fine is expected to increase seat belt use by 0.15 percentage points. A $25 fine increase would result in a 3.8 percentage point increase in seat belt use for and a $75 fine increase would result in an 11.3 percentage point increase in seat belt use.6 A study examining national data from 1997–2008 found a three percentage point increase in seat belt use for an increase in a state’s seat belt fine from $25 to $60 and a six to seven percentage point increase in seat belt use for an increase in a state’s seat belt fine from $25 to $100. Fines above $100 resulted in smaller increases.7 For example, a state with 85% seat belt use with a $25 state seat belt fine could expect approximately 92% seat belt use with a seat belt fine increased to $100.
You can visit the seat belt laws webpageexternal icon on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website for up-to-date information on seat belt laws by state, including the type of enforcement, who is covered, the seating positions that require the use of a seat belt, and fines for violating seat belt laws.2,8
CDC’s state-specific restraint use fact sheets provide national and state data on restraint use and occupant crash deaths, as well as an overview of proven strategies for increasing the use of seat belts, car seats, and booster seats.
People who are ticketed for not wearing a seat belt are responsible for paying the fines associated with violating seat belt laws. Direct costs to states associated with increasing fine levels for seat belt law violations would be minimal.1 Fine increases can be implemented after they are publicized and once relevant motor vehicle record administrative system changes are made.1
The fine amount for a seat belt law violation is only one provision that contributes to the strength of a seat belt law.1,6 Other key provisions that contribute to the strength of a seat belt law are the presence of primary or secondary seat belt laws, the seating positions that are covered by the law (front seat vs. rear seat), and publicity of the laws.1,6
You can read Chapter 2, Section 1.3 of NHTSA’s Countermeasures that Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Officespdf iconexternal icon (Tenth Edition, 2020) to learn more about the topics above or other issues related to increased seat belt fines.1
You can read the RAND Corporation’s final reports for MV PICCS 1.0/2.0external icon and MV PICCS 3.0external icon for more information about how effectiveness and costs were incorporated into the MV PICCS tool for this intervention.
Car manufacturers began installing seat belts in passenger cars sold in the United States in the late 1950s.3,9 In 1968, the federal government began to require lap and shoulder seat belts in the front outboard seats of all new passenger cars sold in the United States if the lap belt alone could not prevent occupant contact with the windshield.3 Modern integrated 3-point lap and shoulder seat belts, which lock during rapid deceleration, became standard in 1973.3
Seat belt use was low (between 11% and 14%) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before occupants were required to use seat belts.9 In 1984, New York became the first state to enact a seat belt use law, and other states soon followed.9 Nationwide seat belt use began to increase dramatically once seat belt laws went into effect and were enforced.9 The greatest increase in seat belt use took place from 1984 to 1987, when seat belt laws were implemented in 29 states.3 By 1991, 37 states had primary or secondary enforcement seat belt laws.9 All states had laws requiring seat belt use for drivers and front-seat occupants by 1996, except New Hampshire.9 Nationwide front-seat seat belt use in the United States has been at or above 80% since 2004.2 In 2020, nationwide front-seat seat belt use was at 90%.10 However, in 2019, almost half of passenger vehicle occupants who were killed in traffic crashes were unrestrained.5
As of January 2022, state seat belt fines for adults ranged from $10 to $200. However, most states had seat belt fines of $25 or less.2,8 See above for current legislation.
- Venkatraman, V., Richard, C. M., Magee, K., & Johnson, K. (2021). Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasures guide for State Highway Safety Offices. (Report No. DOT HS 813 097). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/2021-09/15100_Countermeasures10th_080621_v5_tag.pdfpdf iconexternal icon
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, & Highway Loss Data Institute. (2021). Seat belts. https://www.iihs.org/topics/seat-beltsexternal icon. Accessed on 1/27/2022.
- Kahane, C. J. (2015). Lives saved by vehicle safety technologies and associated federal motor vehicle safety standards, 1960 to 2012: Passenger cars and LTVs: With reviews of 26 FMVSS and the effectiveness of their associated safety technologies in reducing fatalities, injuries, and crashes. (Report No. DOT HS 812 069). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812069external icon
- Kahane, C. J. (2000). Fatality reduction by safety belts for front-seat occupants of cars and light trucks: Updated and expanded estimates based on 1986–99 FARS data. (Report No. DOT HS 809 199). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/809199external icon
- National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2021). Occupant protection in passenger vehicles: 2019 data. (Traffic Safety Facts. Report No. DOT HS 813 176). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813176external icon
- Houston, D. J., & Richardson, L. E. (2006). Getting Americans to buckle up: The efficacy of state seat belt laws. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 37(6), 1114–1120. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457505001065?via%3Dihubexternal icon
- Nichols, J. L., Tippetts, A. S., Fell, J. C., Eichelberger, A. H., & Haseltine, P. W. (2014). The effects of primary enforcement laws and fine levels on seat belt usage in the United States. Traffic Injury Prevention, 15(6), 640–644. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15389588.2013.857017external icon
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, & Highway Loss Data Institute. (2022). Seat belt and child seat laws by state. https://www.iihs.org/topics/seat-belts/seat-belt-law-tableexternal icon. Accessed on 1/27/2022.
- Nichols, J. L., Tippetts, A. S., Fell, J. C., Auld-Owens, A., Wiliszowski, C. H., Haseltine, P. W., & Eichelberger, A. (2010). Strategies to increase seat belt use: An analysis of levels of fines and the type of law (Report No. DOT HS 811 413). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/811413.pdfpdf iconexternal icon
- National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2021). Seat belt use in 2020 – Overall results (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 813 072). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813072external icon