As a driver or passenger in a motor vehicle, failure to wear a seat belt significantly increases the likelihood of being killed in a motor vehicle accident. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 50% of the people who die in car accidents are unrestrained or without a seat belt. Seat belts prevent occupants from being ejected from the vehicle during a serious accident. Being ejected from a vehicle significantly increases the risk of severe injury and death. Wearing a seat belt saves lives and reduces the risk of serious injury.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2017, 47% of people killed in motor vehicle accidents were not wearing a seat belt. During the same year, seat belts saved approximately 15,000 people from death and would have saved another 2,549 people if they had been bucked up at the time of their car accident. Despite these startling statistics, some people still ignore the small life-saving act of wearing a seat belt. Consequently, many states, including Massachusetts, have come up with various seat belt laws and regulations. As different states pass seat belt laws, the national usage rate has increased to around 90%.
In Massachusetts, General Laws Chapter 90 Section 13A requires every person riding in a passenger motor vehicle to wear a seat belt that is properly fastened and adjusted. Additionally, children are required to sit in a federally approved child passenger restraint. The child’s seat should be suitable for their age and weight.
In Massachusetts, the following individuals are exempt from the seat belt requirement:
Massachusetts law requires all children under five years of age to sit in an approved infant or toddler seat appropriate for the child’s age and weight. The law also requires children over five years of age who weigh more than 40 pounds to wear properly adjusted seat belts. However, children weighing between 40 and 60 pounds are permitted to sit in federally approved car seats designed for their specific weight. Practically speaking, the child’s age and weight determine how they are to buckle up. Parents and drivers should not allow children required to wear seat belts to place the shoulder belt under their arm or behind their back. The seat belt regulations apply to children in all types of passenger vehicles, including taxi cabs. Regardless of who owns the vehicle, parents or caregivers should provide car seats for all vehicles transporting their children. Children 12 years of age and above are subject to the same seat belts laws as adults and required to wear a seat belt at all times when in a passenger motor vehicle.
Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 90 §13A, failure to wear a seat belt can result in a $25 fine. However, in Massachusetts, not wearing a seat belt is characterized as a ‘secondary’ offense, meaning an officer cannot pull over a driver simply because he/she is not wearing a seat belt. However, if the police pull over a driver for a different reason and the driver or a passenger is not wearing a seat belt, a $25 fine may be assessed for each violator. Drivers have the primary responsibility of ensuring their passengers buckle up and will be subject to a fine for each passenger between the ages of 12 and 15 that is in violation. However, any passenger over 16 years of age is to pay the fine themselves. In Massachusetts, a seat belt violation is not a defense to a personal injury claim. The state prohibits the use of seat belt violations as evidence against plaintiffs.
Seat belt laws are labeled as either primary or secondary. In states that use primary enforcement, a police officer can pull over a vehicle simply because the driver or passenger were not wearing a seat belt. Seat belt violations are secondary offenses in Massachusetts, meaning the police can only issue tickets for failing to wear a seat belt if they pulled over the vehicle for some other motor vehicle violation or offense. According to the CDC, more people buckle up in primary enforcement states than in secondary enforcement states. CDC projections indicate primary enforcement laws reduce the rate of deaths in car crashes by 8%. To increase the use of seat belts and ultimately save lives, the CDC recommends states use primary enforcement with respect to their seat belt laws.
Despite statistics showing the importance of wearing a seat belt, many people still choose not to wear one. Consequently, these people are more likely to be killed or suffer serious injuries in a car accident. There is a need to have enhanced enforcement of existing seat belt laws, with the CDC recommending primary enforcement laws for states like Massachusetts. Regardless of the seat belt laws in Massachusetts, every driver and passenger in a vehicle should wear a seat belt to reduce their chances of sustaining severe, possibly fatal injuries. Drivers should ensure all children riding in their vehicles are in a federally approved child passenger restraint and properly secured before driving their car. If you, a family member, or friend have been in a car accident in Massachusetts, contact our offices today to schedule a free consultation.
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