All states but New Hampshire mandate that drivers wear seat belts, but don't expect this virtual unanimity when it comes to other aspects of a seat belt violation.
- Is it a moving violation? Yes, in some states.
- Is it a non-moving violation? In some states.
- Does it give points toward license suspension? Yes, it can, depending on the state.
- Does it raise insurance premiums? That depends entirely on the insurer.
Seat Belt Laws, All Over the Map
State laws requiring a driver and all passengers to wear a seat belt are far from uniform. The first big division is between states where it's a primary offense and those where it's a secondary offense. A police officer can stop a car simply because the driver isn't wearing a seat belt in primary states, and they can issue a ticket. In secondary states, a police officer can only give a seat belt ticket if they stop the car for some other offense, such as speeding, and then notices that the driver isn't wearing a belt.
Most states have primary seat belt laws, but about a third have secondary seat belt laws.
Some states, including California, Florida and New Mexico, specify in their laws that a seat belt violation is a moving violation. Others, like Massachusetts, specify that it is not.
How Much Is the Ticket?
Ticket amounts are also all over the map.
- California charges at least $162, and over $400 if a child under 16 years old isn't wearing a seat belt.
- Tennessee recently upped a first offense ticket from $10 to $25.
- Oregon charges $130.
- In Michigan, a driver will pay $65, but it won't go on their record.
- In Iowa, tickets cost $127.50.
- In Washington, drivers pay $124.
- Drivers who are stopped in Wisconsin should be prepared to pay $10.
Points Resulting From Violations
It seems reasonable to expect that states with primary seat belt laws will make violations moving violations and give points toward license suspension for a violation. And yes, some states classify seat belt tickets as moving violations, and others do not. But there are variations on this theme.
For example, violation of seat belt laws is a moving violation in Louisiana, and a driver will get points toward license suspension. But drivers don't get points for the ticket in Massachusetts.
The Effect on Insurance
Points don't necessarily mean that they'll appear on a driving record for the driver's insurer to see. This doesn't happen in Louisiana...but drivers get two points and it appears on their records for their insurers to see in New Mexico.
Insurers differ as to how a seat belt ticket affects insurance rates. Some, like Esurance, count any violation that doesn't carry the risk of incarceration as minor, with a minimal effect on rates. And, according to the Car Insurance Comparison website, the answer depends on many factors, including the driver's state or residence, their driving record, the insurer, and how many violations they've had in the past.
A seat belt ticket is considered a moving violation in some states, like California. In other states, like Washington, it isn't.
- I Drive Safely: Traffic Tickets and Violations in New Mexico
- Esurance: Moving Violations and Car Insurance Rates
- Reference.com: Is a Seat Belt Ticket a Moving Violation?
- Car Insurance Comparison: Will my insurance rates Increase after a Ticket for Not Wearing a Seatbelt?
- MA Legislature: Section 13A: Seat Belt Use Required
- Tennessean: Seat Belt Fines Double in Tennessee
- Myimprov: Michigan Seat Belts
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.