Massachusetts Seat Belt Law

A seat belt is a critical safety device that saves thousands of drivers’ and passengers’ lives each year. Seat belts keep passenger vehicle occupants securely in their seats and in the correct positions during car accidents. Without a seat belt, the forces of the collision could send the occupant flying into other people or objects within the car, increasing the risk of serious injuries.

The accident could also eject an unrestrained person from the vehicle. Wearing a seat belt can significantly reduce the risk of life-threatening injuries such as broken bones, traumatic brain damage and spinal cord injuries. Wearing a seat belt is also part of the law in the state of Massachusetts.

Seat Belt Facts and Figures

In 2017, seat belts prevented almost 15,000 people from suffering fatal injuries in traffic accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. An additional 2,549 people likely would not have died had they been wearing seat belts at the times of their accidents. In 2017, 47% of people who died in car accidents were not buckled up. Seat belt usage rates have increased over the years. In 2018, the national usage rate was almost 90%. The reason for this increase is largely due to more states passing seat belt laws.

Is It Illegal Not to Wear a Seat Belt in Massachusetts?

Yes, it is against the law to go without a safety belt in a motor vehicle in Massachusetts. Seat belts are a legal requirement according to Section 13A of the state’s General Laws. This law says no person shall operate or ride in a passenger vehicle or commercial truck unless he or she is wearing a fastened and properly adjusted safety belt. Breaking this law can result in penalties in the state of Massachusetts unless the individual qualifies as one of the state’s exceptions.

  • Children under 12 (they require car seats instead of seat belts)
  • Drivers and passengers in vehicles manufactured before July 1st, 1966
  • Passengers in antique collection vehicles that do not have belts on side-facing seats
  • Anyone physically unable to use a seat belt (with a doctor’s certification of the condition)
  • Any United States Postal Service worker while performing job duties
  • Drivers operating trucks, tractors and taxies that exceed 17,999 pounds in weight
  • Authorized emergency vehicle passengers

The penalty for illegally failing to wear a seat belt in Massachusetts is a $25 fine. If an adult driver allows someone between the ages of 12 and 16 to ride without wearing a seat belt, the driver will be subject to an additional $25 fine for each infraction. Driving without a seat belt will not, however, serve as a usable defense during a personal injury case. Massachusetts has laws prohibiting nonuse of a seat belt as evidence against a plaintiff. A driver can contest a seat belt citation with a valid argument to avoid paying the fine.

Secondary Enforcement in Massachusetts

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show primary seat belt law enforcement is 14% more effective than secondary seat belt laws. Seat belt usage averages 88% in states with primary enforcement, compared to a 77% usage rate in states with secondary laws. A primary seat belt law could reduce the rate of occupant deaths by 8%, according to statistics.

Most states use primary enforcement for their seat belt laws. In Massachusetts, however, it is a secondary offense, meaning law enforcement cannot stop a driver for only failing to wear a seat belt. The police officer can only ticket a driver for breaking the seat belt law if he or she originally pulled the driver over for a separate offense. The police officer would have had to notice the driver speeding, for example, to issue an additional $25 fine for failure to wear a seat belt. Regardless of state law, every driver should wear a seat belt to improve personal safety in Massachusetts.

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