Why are seat belt laws different between states, and how does it affect the outcome of my car accident settlement?

In the United States each state has the power to mandate and enforce laws regarding driving. Examples of these regulations include things like speed limits, age restrictions, and seat belt laws. No matter what the law, though, the ultimate goal is to prevent serious car accidents and reduce passenger injuries and fatalities.

There are two kinds of seat belt laws in our country: primary seat belt laws and secondary seat belt laws. Today, every state—including D.C., but minus New Hampshire—has established either primary or secondary laws.

Understanding the Differences Between Primary and Secondary Seat Belt Laws

Primary Seat Belt Laws exist in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and 32 other states. What this means is that law enforcement can pull drivers over at any time if they are not buckled up, and may issue a fine. This would be comparable to someone speeding or driving dangerously on the road. According to the NHTSA, states with primary seat belt laws have approximately an 88% seat belt usage among residents.

Secondary Seat Belt Laws are in place in 16 other states, including Virginia. Basically, this means that wearing a seat belt is mandatory. However, police cannot pull over and ticket motorists for failing to wear a seat belt unless they are also violating another traffic offense, like speeding, running a stop light, or executing an improper lane change. The NHTSA has found that those states with secondary seat belt laws have approximately 76% seat belt usage.

Whether a state has a primary or secondary seat belt law in place, one thing is common between them: The two groups at greatest risk of getting into injury accidents—teens and drinking drivers—tend to be the least likely to buckle-up.

If you’re involved in a car accident caused by another driver, the extent of your injuries may be determined by the seat belt factor. Because Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. have contributory negligence laws, if your injuries are caused, in part, because you failed to wear a seat belt, that may have an impact on any potential settlement.

Don’t let the law determine whether or not you choose to fasten your safety belt. Seat belts have been proven to prevent serious head, brain, neck, and spine injuries, and save lives. Yours’ could be the next one. These laws, and subsequent tickets, only exist to help motivate drivers to take a few extra seconds and buckle-up. If you don’t, a fine could be the least of your worries.

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