Seatbelt Safety: Back to the Basics

It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when there were no smart phones posing distractions for drivers.  In an earlier day, motor vehicles didn’t have CD or tape players.  My first car was a hand-me-down from my grandparents, a 1964 Belvedere without air conditioning, tape player, or even a radio. One very important feature that car did have, though: seatbelts.

The installation of seatbelts in vehicles wasn’t mandated by federal law until January 1, 1968.  Even then, the use of those seatbelts wasn’t required by any state until New York passed such a law in 1984.  Today, every state except one has some form of mandatory seatbelt usage law for adult drivers.  The single holdout is New Hampshire, which doesn’t require adults over the age of 18 to use seatbelts at all, but even it requires them for children 17 and under.

Most states have what are called “primary enforcement seatbelt laws,” meaning that the failure to wear a seatbelt is a violation for which you can be stopped and issued a citation by law enforcement.  Virginia, along with a few other states, has “secondary enforcement seatbelt laws,” meaning that an adult driver can’t be stopped solely for not wearing a seatbelt.[1]  However, if you’re stopped for some other reason, which could include being involved in an accident that’s not your fault, you can be ticketed for the failure to wear a seat belt.  Failure to secure children in seatbelts or child restraint seats, whichever is appropriate for their age, is still a primary offense.[2]

When I took driver’s education back in high school, an officer come in to talk about the importance of wearing seatbelts. I remember him telling us, “I’ve never unbuckled a dead person.” We know seatbelts don’t always save lives, but the statistics say that you’re safer with them buckled. It only takes a moment and it could make all the difference. While we’re all rightfully worried about texting, drowsy driving, road rage and distracted driving, let’s also take a second to start every car trip with the safety feature we’ve had around for decades and buckle those seatbelts.

About the Author: Tammy Ruble is an attorney with the personal injury law firm of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen. She serves as a resource on issues in her special fields of expertise which include the crafting of Complaints and documents relating to infant settlements, wrongful death settlements, due diligence, and discovery.

[1] Virginia Code Section 46.2-1094