When Did It Become a Legal Requirement to Wear Seat Belts?

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The initial effective date of seat belt legislation varies according to the state. New York was the first to make seat belts a legal requirement for adults and non-infant passengers on Dec. 1, 1984. Other states followed over the next 10 years with Maine becoming the last state on Dec. 26, 1995.

As of 2014, New Hampshire remains the only state without seat belt legislation for adults aged 18 and over. Generally speaking, children are always covered either by seat belt or child seat laws.

The nature of the enforcement of the seat belt law also varies by state. In the majority of cases, seat belts are subject to primary enforcement, meaning that police officers can stop and issue tickets for seat belt violations alone. In 16 states, however, the wearing of seat belts is only subject to secondary enforcement. This means that police officers must observe a primary violation in addition to the seat belt violation before pulling a car over.

Sixteen states have seat belt laws covering passengers in the rear, out of the 33 states with primary seat belt laws for anyone riding in front seats,. Four of these 33 states have secondary laws for rear seats, and 13 have none. Rear seats are only covered in seven of the 16 states with secondary seat belt laws.