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When Did Seat Belt Laws Take Effect in California?

You are legally required to wear a seat belt whenever you are on the road in California—whether as a driver or a passenger. How long has this been the case? California is about to celebrate the 38th anniversary of its statewide mandatory seatbelt law for adults. Within this article, our Los Angeles car accident lawyer explains the history of seat belt laws in California, why seat belts are so important, and how the lack of a seat belt could affect your claim.

A History of Seat Belt Laws in California

Seat Belt Laws

Seat belts became mandatory for all drivers and passengers in California on January 1, 1986. Notably, our state was one of the first in the country to put a mandatory seat belt law in place. It came just two years after the country’s first statewide seat belt law, which took effect in New York. California’s seat belt was introduced as a response to the high number of injuries and fatalities.

Under California law (California Vehicle Code § 27315), a person may not operate a motor vehicle unless they and all of their passengers are “properly restrained by a safety belt.” A seat belt violation remains a “primary” enforcement issue. In effect, this means that a police officer can pull over and cite a driver based solely on a seat belt violation.

Note: Seat belts are especially important for vulnerable people, including teenagers and children. A child who is under the age of eight years old in California should be in a properly installed car seat unless they are 4’9 or taller. To comply with state law, the booster seat should always be in the backseat of the vehicle.

What is the Cost of a Seat Belt Ticket in California?

As stated by the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), a seat belt violation in California is a primary enforcement violation. You can be cited for the following ticket:

  • $162 if an adult does not wear a seat belt;
  • $490 if a child under the age of 16 does not wear a seat belt.

The Data is Clear: Seat Belts Prevent Injuries and Save Lives

Seat belts prevent injuries and save lives. Indeed, the data is clear: There is a comprehensive body of evidence showing the importance of wearing seat belts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that seat belts save between 15,000 and 16,000 lives nationwide each year. NHTSA also assesses that 2,500 more lives would be saved with full seat belt compliance.

Here are some key reasons why seat belts matter for safety:

  • Seat belts hold occupants inside the vehicle;
  • Seat belts distribute the force of the impact;
  • Seat belts prevent collision with the windshield or steering wheel;
  • Seat belts help the body to slow down; and
  • Seat belts help to reduce brain injuries and spinal cord injuries.

How Lack of a Seat Belt Could Affect Your Claim (Comparative Negligence)

You should always wear a seat belt in California. Not only is a seat belt a crucial safety feature, but the failure to wear a proper safety restraint can carry serious legal consequences. Of course, a motorist could be ticketed if they—or their passenger—is not wearing a seat belt. Beyond that, the lack of a proper seat belt could actually have an adverse effect on a personal injury claim if you are involved in an accident—even if the accident itself was not your fault. The reason for this is that California operates under a system of comparative negligence.

If you fail to wear a proper seat belt in Los Angeles or elsewhere in Southern California, you could be found partially at fault for your own injuries. Once again, this may be true if the other driver was predominantly to blame for the accident. The defendant and/or the insurance company may argue that your injuries would have been less severe or even prevented if you had been wearing a seat belt. That being said, you still have the right to bring a personal injury claim for a car accident even if you were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.

Contact Our Los Angeles Auto Accident Attorney Today

At Personal Injury Legal Group, our Los Angeles auto accident lawyers are skilled, experienced, and reliable advocates for victims and families. Hurt in a crash? You need the maximum available financial compensation. Call us now or connect with us online to set up a free consultation. With a law office in Los Angeles, we handle motor vehicle collisions throughout Southern California.

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