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California Seat Belt law

California seat belt statute

California seat belt law is described in section 27315 of the Vehicle Code, also known as the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. This statute describes the circumstances in which people riding in an automobile in California are legally required to wear a seatbelt. According to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, in a private passenger vehicle, the driver and all passengers are required to be secured by a safety belt. In a taxicab or a limo, only front seat passengers are required to buckle up, but there must be seat belts provided for back seat passengers to use. Unless you’re in a limo or cab, though, California seat belt law is pretty simple-everyone buckles up, or else.

The statute also has several sections that determine who is responsible for ensuring compliance with the law. If everyone in the car is 16 years of age or older, the driver is responsible for securing himself and all passengers. If there are children under the age of 16 in the car and their parents are not present, the driver is responsible for making sure the children are properly secured, as well. However, when parents of minors under age 16 are in the vehicle with their kids, they are responsible for securing their children no matter who is actually driving the car.

Section 27360 of the Vehicle Code spells out the requirements for very young children. Under this statute, children must ride in the back seat of the vehicle and be in a child safety seat, unless they are age six or older or weigh 60 pounds or more. Children in this age group may be in secured in a child safety seat in the front seat of the car only under the following conditions:

  • All the back seats are already occupied by children under the age of 12.
  • The vehicle doesn't have rear seats, or the rear seats face the rear or side of the vehicle instead of facing forward.
  • The child has a medical condition that requires him or her to ride in the front.


However, no child can ride in the front seat at all unless they are over 1 year old or weigh more than 20 pounds. Also, it is illegal to have a child ride in the front seat if they are in a rear-facing car seat. This is because airbags can strike the rear of the seat in an accident and cause skull fractures, brain damage or death.

In California, violating the seat belt law is a primary offense. This means that if a police officer sees you without a seat belt on, that's all that's necessary to pull you over and write you a ticket.

Fines for not wearing a seat belt

Fines for not wearing a seat belt in California are set at the state level, by the California Vehicle Code. The amount of the fine depends on the age of the person who was riding around without a belt on. For example, if the unsecured passenger is 16 or older, the fine is $20 for a first offense and $50 for future offenses. The law specifically gives the court the option to order the offender to attend defensive driving school instead of paying a fine on the first offense.

Were you caught with your seat belt off? Driving University offers an online defensive driving course that is accepted by many California traffic courts. Unlike a boring classroom course, our course is written to be interesting and easy to digest. Plus, it's completely online, so you can take the class from home at your convenience. Click here to see if we can help you with your California seat belt ticket!

If you get caught with an unbuckled child in the car, the fines are a little bit higher. If the child is under 6 or weighs less than 60 pounds and is not in car seat, the fine is $100.00 for the first offense. On a first offense, if you didn't have a car seat because you were not able to afford one, the court has the option of waiving the fine and referring you to a program to help you get a car seat at a price you can afford. On future offenses, the fine is still $100, but the court does not have the option of waving it.

If the unsecured child is over 6 or over 6o pounds and isn't wearing a seat belt, the fine is $50.00 for the first offense and $100 for future offenses.
Remember, California has a penalty system that can double or even triple the amount you pay in fines. According to the California Uniform Bail and Penalty Schedules, the total amount for an adult seat belt offense is only 22.50, even with all of the penalties. However, for a seat belt offense involving children under 16, you will probably end up paying about $340 once everything is said and done.

Who is required to wear a seat belt?

In California, almost everyone is required to wear a seat belt. The only exceptions are people with a medical condition that makes it unsafe to wear one, and people with occupations that require them to get in and out of their car all the time, such as newspaper delivery people, meter readers, mail carriers, and garbage truck drivers. Even workers in these professions must buckle up on the way to and from their routes.

All about child seats

Child seats are essential to keeping your child safe in a vehicle. Seat belts are designed for grown-ups, and are not adequate protection for an infant or a small child. In fact, according to statistics published by, if an accident does happen, child safety seats can reduce the risk of death in infants by 71%. For toddlers, child safety seats reduce that risk by 54%.

There are many different models of child safety seats available, so look for one that is good fit for your child and your vehicle. Even with an owner's manual, it can be difficult to figure out how to install them correctly-in fact, according to, 7 out 10 car seats are installed or adjusted improperly.  Many parents are compromising their children's safety without even being aware of it!

To help combat this problem, the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration has established Ease of Use ratings for child safety seats. To see how your child safety seat rates, click here. Also, if you want to be sure that your child's safety seat is installed correctly, NHSTA has free inspection stations set up throughout the country. To look for a California car seat inspection station near you, click here.

Remember, too, that even though it is not currently required by California law, older children should still use a booster seat. A booster seat not only makes the seat belt more comfortable, it also makes the seat belt much more effective at preventing injury if the child is in a car accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that children use booster seats until they are 8 years old or 4' 9" tall.

Types of seat belts

There are 4 types of seat belts that you might encounter in an automobile: the lap belt, the sash belt, the lap-and- sash, and the 3-point harness. As the name suggests, the lap belt fastens around your waist and does not have a shoulder strap. Lap belts were more common in older vehicles, and are usually found only in the back seats of older cars. In an accident, they do not do as good of a job at distributing the force of impact as other types of belts. Sash belts are another older type of belt that is now rare. Sash belts were basically just shoulder straps, and they are no longer used because they are easy to slip out of in an accident. The lap-and-sash belts and the three-point harness style belts are the safest. A lap-and-sash belt is really two separate belts, a lap belt and a shoulder belt. The three point harness is similar, except that it is made up of one continuous piece of material and only has to be buckled once. These types of seat belt help spread out the force of impact across the strongest parts of your body if you are in an accident. The three-point harness is the most common type of seat belt in newer vehicles.

Reasons to use seat belts

Why should you buckle up, anyway? Well, there are a couple of reasons: Reason # 1 is that it's the law, and if you get caught without one you'll have to pay a fine. Reason #2 is that wearing a seat belt is your best source of protection if there is an accident. However, according to statistics released in 2002 by the Prevention Institute, the United States seat belt usage rate is only about 75%. Why don't more people wear them?

Reasons for not wearing a seat belt range from simple carelessness to the persistence of some common misconceptions about seat belt use. For example, some people believe that wearing a seat belt can cause them to be trapped in a vehicle that's on fire or sinking underwater. While that's definitely a terrifying idea, most crashes don't involve these hazards. However, not wearing your seatbelt greatly increases your likelihood of being thrown from the vehicle-and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 75% of passengers who are thrown from a vehicle during a crash die. Those are not good odds!

If you are in a crash and don't have a seat belt on, your chances of sustaining a serious injury are 4 to 5 times greater than they would have been if you had your seat belt on. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a seat belt will reduce your chances of dying in a crash by 45%.

How do seatbelts keep you safe in a crash? Basically, whenever your vehicle hits something, your body has 3 different types of force to contend with: the force of the impact between your car and whatever you just hit, the force of your body smacking against the inside of your car, and the force of your internal organs hitting your skeleton. Sounds fun, doesn't it? A seat belt spreads these forces out over the strongest parts of your body: your chest, your pelvis and your torso, keeping you from sustaining more serious injuries.

That's why California seat belt law is so strict-seat belts really do save lives. Fortunately, the law seems to be working. According to the Prevention Institute, California's seat belt usage rate is 91%, the best in the nation.

Seat belts and kids

A seat belt by itself is better than no safety restraint at all for children, but it's still not good enough for younger kids. Seat belts are designed for the average adult, and kids need more protection. According to the Humboldt County, California Department of Health and Human Services, there are four stages to using a seat belt effectively with children:

  • From birth until the baby weighs about 35 pounds: a rear-facing infant seat with a harness-type child safety restraint.
  • From approximately 35 pounds to 40 pounds: a forward-facing seat with a harness-type child safety belt.
  • From 40 pounds until the child is approximately 4' 9" and can fit comfortably into an adult seat belt: a booster seat.
  • Once your child is big enough, an adult seat belt.


As you can see, for very small children, the only correct type of child safety belt is the kind that comes inside a car seat. Car seats can be expensive, and it's recommended that you buy them new and not used to make sure they are in good condition. However, it's definitely a worthwhile investment, since it could save your child's life in an accident. To help with the cost, California county health departments offer programs to help low income families obtain low-cost infant car seats. Contact your local health department for details.

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