California has some of the most robust seat belt laws in the country which is largely due to the high number of drivers and passengers that find themselves on the roads every day. California seat belt laws typically requires that anyone inside of a moving vehicle be restrained properly by using the appropriate seatbelt or car seat for their size and age. All occupants 8 years old or older must wear a seat belt when in a moving vehicle regardless of where they sit inside of a vehicle. Children between the ages of 2 and 8 must be restrained in an appropriately sized car seat or booster seat in the back seat of a vehicle. Any child younger than 2 years old should be in a rear facing car seat in the back seat of a vehicle. Following the seat belt laws in California will help increase the safety of passengers inside of a moving vehicle.
California Vehicle Code Regulations for Proper Seatbelt and Restraints
California seat belt laws required seat belt usage for drivers and passengers back in 1986. The implementation of these laws was influenced by the number of accidents and car accident injuries that occurred on California’s busy highways and surface streets.
Vehicle Code 27315 VC – Mandatory Use of Seat Belts in California
“Vehicle Code 27315 VC is the main seat belt statute that outlines the proper seat belt usage for adults and teens 16 years or older. Anyone at the age of 16 or over must wear a seatbelt inside of a moving vehicle.”
Under this statute, proper seatbelt usage is identified as using the lower lap portion of the belt to cross over the waist or hips and using the upper shoulder portion of the belt to cross the chest. If the seatbelt is not worn in a fashion that follows the requirements of this statute, then the person is not considered “properly restrained” as per CA law. It is important to know that there are additional elements of this vehicle code which require vehicles to have working seat belts for all passengers. This statute also outlines the penalties for not wearing seatbelts properly, which result in a fine issued by the local enforcement agency. There are certain circumstances which would allow an individual to not wear seatbelts, but these circumstances are rare and usually include a medical issue or emergency.
Vehicle Code 27360 VC – Mandatory Use of Child Restraint Systems for Children Under 8
The next vehicle code that dictates appropriate seatbelt usage for children. This statute is broken down into 2 sections that outline appropriate seatbelt usage for children under 8 and children under 2.
- Children under 8 should be properly restrained using an appropriate child safety seat in the back seat.
- Children that weigh between 22 – 40 pounds should be in a toddler safety seat that is forward facing and is ideally placed in the center back seat.
- Children over 40 pounds and under the age of 8 should be placed in an appropriate booster seat that is forward facing. The booster seat should be appropriate for the child’s size which means that the seat should raise the child to a level where the upper shoulder belt crosses the chest of the child.
- Children under 8 but taller than 4 feet 9 inches no longer require a booster seat and can sit using a regular seat belt restraint.
- Children under the age of 2 or under 22 pounds must be placed in a rear facing infant safety seat that is in the center back seat.
Under no circumstances should a child under the age of 8 be allowed to sit in the front seat if a back seat is available.
Vehicle Code 27360.5 VC – Mandatory Use of Seat Belts for Children Aged 8 – 16
The section of vehicle code indicates that all children between the ages of 8 -16 must be appropriately restrained in a regular seat belt unless they are small enough that the upper chest belt does not sit across their chest. In these instances, a booster seat is required that is similar to those used for children under age 8.
Click It or Ticket Campaign
Law enforcement in California has implemented a traffic campaign called “Click it or Ticket” in attempts to increase seat belt usage and reduce car accident-related injuries and deaths. This campaign debuted in 2005 after following the success of other state who had implemented the campaign.
Seat Belt Use Facts & Statistics
From the time that the “Click it or Ticket” campaign had been implemented in 2005 to 2018, California saw a 3.4% increase in seat belt usage from 92.5% to 95.9%. This is a big step forward from the national average of 90.7% proper seatbelt usage. This campaign has been critical in encouraging motorists in California to follow proper seat belt requirements to avoid sustaining serious injuries in car accidents. Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of unintentional injuries and deaths in the US and more than half of serious injuries and deaths that were the result of a car accident were prompted by individuals who were not properly restrained. The data confirms that being properly restrained in a moving vehicle can reduce the likelihood of serious injury and death by roughly 50%. The cohorts that are more likely to suffer from injuries from not being restrained properly are:
- Adults aged 18 – 24
- Individuals from state without strict seatbelt laws
- Individuals from rural areas without much enforcement
Effects of Not Wearing a Seat Belt in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If an individual was a victim in a car accident and sustained an injury, a personal injury claim can be filed. If the injury was sustained while not being properly restrained, the defending party can argue that there was some negligence on the part of the injured party. Since California is a comparative fault state, accidents in which partial negligence can also be assigned to the victim for not being restrained will ultimately result in a reduction in any amount rewarded as some fault is delegated to the victim. The amount of reward is determined by how much fault is assigned to the victim vs the party being held liable. For example, if the victim sustained an injury that could have been prevented by wearing a seatbelt and that results in 40% of the blame being assigned to the victim, then whatever amount of damages that would have been rewarded to cover medical costs will be reduced by 40%.
Penalties for Not Wearing Seat Belts in California
The penalties for violating the seat belt statutes in California typically result in a fine issued by the local enforcement agency. Thee fines are usually a combination of the “base fine” plus whatever additional fees are added by to local police department. The base fines as outlined by the state statutes are:
- First offence is $20.00
- Each subsequent offence is $50.00
It is important to note that the actual fine that is received by violators will be significantly more after additional fees and penalties are included. After the additional fees and penalties have been assigned, the final balance owed for seatbelt violations comes out to $162 for adult violators and $490 for any drivers who have not properly restrained children under 16. In the event of a first-time offense, the fine can be eliminated if an adult violator attends a traffic school that includes instructions on proper seat belt usage.
No Points are Placed on the Driving Record of Violators of Seat Belt Laws
When traffic laws are broken, drivers are usually assigned a point to their driving record. These points usually have a negative impact on car insurance rates and if enough points are accrued, an individual’s license can be suspended. Not wearing a seatbelt is not considered a moving violation so drivers and passengers that are violating seat belt laws will not receive a point on their record. With that being said, drivers who allow children to not be properly restrained do take the risk of receiving a point for allowing a moving violation to occur.
No Traffic School Requirement for Violators of Seat Belt Laws
If an individual is ticketed for most non-serious moving violations, they typically must attend traffic school to avoid receiving a point on their record. Since seatbelt violations are not considered moving violations, traffic school is not a requirement. Individuals can voluntarily take traffic school to reduce the fine that results from violating seat belt laws in California if they choose to but the reduction in fines usually isn’t worth the time and effort it takes to go through traffic school.
No Criminal Charges for Violators of Seat Belt Laws
Not wearing a seat belt is not a criminal offense so there is no potential for criminal charges, incarceration, or other criminal penalties for seat belt violators. However, if a seatbelt ticket is ignored, a new charge for failure to appear will be issued.
What Happens if Your Ignore a Seat Belt Law Ticket?
If a seatbelt ticket is ignored, an individual will be guilty of violating California Vehicle Code 40508 VC for failure to appear in court which is a misdemeanor. If this happens the penalties can include up to 6 months in county jail and / or a fine of up to $1000.
Legal Defenses Against Wearing Seat Belts
Sometimes seat belt tickets can be erroneously issued by enforcement officers and in these instances a party can plead not guilty to their ticket. The most common defenses against seat belt violations include:
- Having an emergency that prevented an individual from wearing a seat belt
- Having a medical condition that prevented an individual from wearing a seat belt
Contact Mesriani Law Group if You Have Been in an Accident
Regardless of if you were wearing your seatbelt or not, if you have been in a car accident that resulted in injury, call Mesriani Law Group to discuss your car accident personal injury claim. Our team of licensed and experienced car accident lawyers will help build your case and determine the best course of action to ensure that you are compensated for your injuries and trauma.
Seat Belt Law FAQs
When did it become law to wear seatbelts in California?
Wearing a seat belt in California became mandatory in 1986. Before that, it was estimated than less than half of motorists statewide used seat belts. Since that time, seat belt usage has climbed to 95.9% as of 2018.
What is the fine for not wearing a seatbelt in California?
The base fees as outlined by California Vehicle Code are $20 for the first offense and $50 for any subsequent offenses. There are also additional fees and penalties that bring an adult seat belt violation up to $162 and $490 for any drivers who allow children under 16 to be incorrectly restrained.
What are the height and weight requirements for a booster seat in California?
Typically, children under the age of 8, taller than 4’9, or over 65 pounds are no longer required to use a booster seat. The general rule of thumb is if a child can wear a seat belt with the upper chest belt across their chest, then they are properly restrained as per California Vehicle Code.