In modern times, most every motor vehicle is equipped with seat belts. These devices help keep those in the vehicle in their seats in the event of an accident. While seat belts may be common nowadays, it wasn't until the late twentieth century that states began requiring their citizens to wear them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “[a]ll new passenger cars had some form of seat belts beginning in 1964, shoulder belts in 1968, and integrated lap and shoulder belts in 1974.” However, though the belts were available they were not often worn by those driving or riding in a vehicle. Various surveys taken found that seat belts were used by just 10% of those polled.
The first state to pass a law that made wearing a seat belt mandatory was New York in 1984. Other states followed suit and by the mid-nineties, nearly every state had some sort of seat belt law. The CDC reports that “[i]n a typical State, belt use rose quickly to about 50 percent shortly after the State's belt law went into effect.”
The use of seat belts has greatly improved in the past few decades. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “the national use rate is at 90.1 percent.” While seat belts save lives, an estimated 13,941 in 2015, there are still many who choose not to buckle up. Not only can failing to wear a seat belt lead to injury if in an accident, not wearing a seat belt can also lead to a traffic ticket.
Arizona's Seat Belt Laws
The law in Arizona states that most people in a vehicle must wear a seat belt. According to A.R.S. 28-909(A):
Each front seat occupant of a motor vehicle that is designed for carrying ten or fewer passengers, that is manufactured for the model year 1972 and thereafter and that is required to be equipped with an integrated lap and shoulder belt or a lap belt pursuant to the federal motor vehicle safety standards prescribed in 49 Code of Federal Regulations section 571.208 shall either:
1. Have the lap and shoulder belt properly adjusted and fastened while the vehicle is in motion.
2. If only a lap belt is installed where the occupant is sitting, have the lap belt properly adjusted and fastened while the vehicle is in motion.
In addition, those who are under 16 are likewise required to wear seat belts when riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle. Failing to wear a seat belt is considered a civil traffic violation in Arizona. The statutory penalty is a ten dollar fine per violation.
Child Restraint Laws
Different laws apply to children under a certain age. A.R.S. 28-907(A) states “a person shall not operate a motor vehicle on the highways in this state when transporting a child who is under five years of age unless that child is properly secured in a child restraint system.” In addition, the law states that passengers who are “at least five years of age, who is under eight years of age and who is not more than four feet nine inches tall to be restrained in a child restraint system.” A.R.S. 28-907(B). The statutory penalty for a violation of this section is fifty dollars.
Primary v. Secondary Seat Belt Laws
How seat belt laws can be enforced varies from state to state. While law enforcement officers can generally pull people over for traffic violations such as speeding or failing to use a turn signal, the law is different when it comes to seat belt laws.
States use either primary or secondary enforcement when it comes to the laws concerning seat belts. According to a 2013 Research Brief, “[p]rimary enforcement laws allow police officers to stop a vehicle because of a suspected seat belt violation.” By contrast, “secondary enforcement laws allow peace officers to issue a citation for a seat belt violation during a traffic stop for another violation.”
For example, if a police officer sees a driver speeding down the road, the officer can pull the driver over for exceeding the posted speed limit. In a state with secondary seat belt enforcement laws, if the driver is not wearing his seat belt as required, then the officer could give the driver a ticket for both speeding and failure to buckle up. However, the officer cannot pull the driver over if the only traffic violation the officer observes is that the driver is not wearing a seat belt. By contrast, in a state with primary seat belt enforcement laws, if an officer sees a driver operating his or her vehicle while not wearing a seat belt, then the officer can pull the driver over for violating the seat belt law. An officer in a primary enforcement state does not need another reason to pull a driver over. It is important to note that there are exceptions in every state, particularly when it comes to the laws governing child restraints.
Arizona has secondary enforcement seat belt laws, with the exception of laws pertaining to children. That means in the Grand Canyon state, in order for a police officer to pull a driver over the driver must be committing some other traffic violation like going over the posted speed limit or going through a stop sign. However, if the officer sees a child who is not properly restrained and the child is both 4'9” or shorter and eight years or younger then the driver can be pulled over for failing to have his or her child properly secured.
Contact an Arizona Traffic Attorney
While a seat belt violation may be relatively minor, there are traffic violations that can result in significant fines, penalties, and even criminal charges. If you need assistance with a traffic ticket, criminal speeding charges, or DUI, please do not hesitate to contact Hamp Law today.