Learn more about seat belt laws – as discussed by our car accident lawyers in Houston.
Today, most people regularly wear seat belts. The CDC says that six out of seven people always buckle up. (CDC, Policy Impact: Seat belts). Although seat belt use is common today, seat belt laws are relatively new.
Texas passed a mandatory seat belt law in 1985. At the time, the law applied only to front-seat passengers. In 2009, lawmakers amended that law to require everyone to wear a seat belt no matter where they are seated in the vehicle.
Seat Belt Laws in Texas
Seat belts are required in Texas for all passengers. No matter where you are seated in the vehicle, you must wear a seat belt.
Are seat belts required in Texas?
Yes. Seat belts are required for everyone in a vehicle in Texas. Unless an exception applies, seat belts are mandatory.
Do you have to wear a seat belt in the back seat in Texas?
Yes. Seat belts must be worn in the back seat in Texas.
Who gets the ticket for a seat belt violation – the passenger or the driver?
If the vehicle occupant is 15 years of age or older, they may be personally responsible for failing to wear a seat belt. In addition, anyone who allows a child under the age of 17 to ride without a seat belt may be liable.
What is the seat belt law in Texas?
Texas Transportation Code § 545.413 is the Texas law for safety belt use. The law creates the following seat belt violations:
Any person 15 years of age or older in a seat equipped with a safety belt and not wearing the safety belt
Operator of a school bus not wearing the operator’s safety belt, if there is one
Person operating a vehicle equipped with safety belts who allows a child under 17 to ride in a seat equipped with a seat belt without wearing it
Someone who allows a child under 17 to ride in a passenger vehicle (seating 15 or fewer) without a safety belt, if the seat is equipped with one
Everyone must wear a seat belt in Texas. When the person is 15 years old or older, they may be personally liable for not using the safety belt. In addition, vehicle operators or anyone else who allows a child under 17 to ride without a safety belt may also be liable on behalf of the minor.
When is a vehicle equipped with a safety belt?
A vehicle is equipped with a safety belt if a safety belt is required for the seat under Texas statutes § 547.601. It is not a defense if the safety belt is removed or is inoperative.
What is the penalty for failing to wear a seat belt in Texas?
If the offender is aged 15-17 or they are a school bus operator, a seat belt offense is $25-$50. For adults not wearing a seat belt or responsible for a child not wearing a seat belt, the fine is $100-$200. Like most Texas traffic offenses, it is a misdemeanor.
Texas Law Seat Belt Exemptions
There are exemptions to the Texas seat belt law:
- Having a statement from a physician that a seat belt is excused for a medical reason
- United States postal workers
- Newspaper delivery
- Utility meter readers
- Registered farm vehicles under a certain weight
- Waste/garbage collecting
Even if a person doesn’t have a physician’s statement at the time of receiving the ticket, they have up to 10 days to get and present a physician’s statement.
Who is legally responsible if your 16-year-old passenger is not wearing his seat belt while you are driving in Texas?
Both the 16-year-old and the driver may receive tickets if the 16-year-old is not wearing a seat belt while riding in a vehicle in Texas. At the age of 16, the person is individually responsible, but the driver is responsible, too.
A seat belt works best when it is worn correctly. It should:
- Fit snugly across the hips
- Not cross the stomach rather than the hips
- Cross the shoulder
- Never tuck under the arm
If a seat belt is not worn improperly, it may not provide maximum protection in the event of a crash. (NHTSA: Seat belts)
Texas Car Accidents and the Admissibility of Seat Belt Nonuse
When a car accident injures a person, and the person is not wearing a seat belt, their seat belt use may be a factor in a claim for compensation.
If a person is not wearing a seat belt, it may be admissible as comparative negligence in a Texas car accident claim. The finder of fact makes one determination of negligence. They may weigh the reasons the accident occurred against the nonuse of a seatbelt.
In Nabors Well Services Ltd. v. Romero, 456 S.W. 3d 553 (Tex. 2015), the court overruled previous law from Carnation Co. v. Wong, 516 S.W.2d 116 (Tex. 1974). In Nabors Well Services, the court discussed how seat belt use is now considered a societal norm. With the Texas modified contributory negligence rule, the jury can weigh the actions of the injured party in not wearing a seat belt against fault for causing the accident itself.
There may also be questions of failure to mitigate damages that are considered separately. However, the Nabors court said that it was more appropriate to consider seat belt nonuse against other actions leading to the crash since the nonuse occurred before the accident itself. Different states have reached different conclusions.
When the injured party is a minor child, the jury may consider the fault of an adult for not placing the child in an appropriate car seat or seat belt. The defendant must establish that the nonuse contributed to the injury. The plaintiff should be prepared with an expert to counter defense testimony.
Constitutionality of Seat Belt Use
Is the Texas seat belt law constitutional?
In Richards v. Texas, (01-86-00780-CR, 1987), the court found that the Texas seat belt law is constitutional. The court considered due process and equal protection arguments. They said that freedom from government-imposed bodily restraint is not absolute. The court said there was a rational relationship between the law and a legitimate government purpose sufficient to uphold the law.
Lawyers for car accidents involving seat belt nonuse
If you were in a car accident, and seat belt nonuse may be an issue, you should talk to a lawyer. Contact our experienced legal team today to talk about your case.