Do seat belt laws impact my car insurance?

The seat belt laws and how they impact your insurance will likely vary depending on where you are in the country. States have been implementing the safety measure since 1984 when the seat belt laws history kicked off. Outside of legality, insurers prefer seat belt laws because they have been shown to reduce death by at least 45%.

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A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Written by Laura Berry
Former Insurance Agent Laura Berry

Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP® Joel Ohman

UPDATED: Jun 2, 2022

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Here's what you need to know...

  • Not wearing a seat belt can affect car insurance rates
  • Seat belts prevent over 45% of deaths in car accidents
  • You could receive a smaller settlement in an accident if you weren’t wearing a seat belt

The seat belt laws are different in every state, but they are required in most places. Your insurance company won’t be happy if they find out you don’t wear your seat belt, and it could affect you financially.

Insurance companies like to reduce risk, and even offer car insurance discounts for safety features like seat belts. But do seat belt laws affect your rates? Read on to learn more.

Regardless of the seat belt laws in yor state, you can save on car insurance. Enter your ZIP code into our free quote tool for quotes from top companies.

How do seat belt laws impact my car insurance?

Your insurance company wants you to avoid injuries in an accident. That’s because medical claims can be really expensive. If you get a ticket for not wearing a seat belt, the insurance company can raise your rates.

In addition, if you aren’t wearing a seat belt and are injured, the settlement you get from the insurance company may be lower.

Some seat belt use provides a car insurance discount, as do other safety features of your car.

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What happens if I’m in an accident while not wearing my seat belt?

First, hope that you aren’t thrown from the car by the sheer force of an impact. Being ejected from a vehicle almost always leads to a fatality. Staying in your seat can result in fewer injuries.

Some of the ways that a seat belts protect you include:

  • Keep you in place to receive cushioning from an airbag
  • Stay safely in position to control vehicle
  • Prevent some head damage if the vehicle becomes overturned

In truth, your seat belt is one of your vehicle’s most important safety features. There’s a reason that insurance places so much value on seat belts, and that’s because they can save your life.

Will not wearing a seat belt affect my insurance claim?

If you’re not wearing your seat belt when you get in an accident, you may face some issues when filing a claim. Your insurer won’t be happy that you didn’t take every option available to protect yourself. As part of your insurance contract, you are expected to take every precaution to reduce injuries and damage.

In addition to protecting you from injuries, wearing a seat belt can also help you when you file a claim, such as when:

  • The opposing insurer is trying to minimize your damages
  • When you need to prove that you’re a safe and defensive driver

If the opposing insurance company can minimize the amount it pays out, it’ll do everything it can to do so. In states where the seat belt defense is allowed, insurers can argue that not wearing a seat belt significantly increased the severity of your injuries.

Can a ticket for a not wearing a seat belt affect car insurance rates?

A seat belt ticket can increase your car insurance rates in a few ways. First, in states where seat belt laws are primary (which means a police officer can pull you over just for not wearing one) that ticket alone can impact your rates.

In states where seat belt laws are secondary (meaning the officer must have another reason to pull you over, but can then write the seat belt ticket), it could actually be worse. That’s because if you get a ticket for a primary reason (speeding, for example) and a seat belt ticket as well, that’s two marks on your record.

Some states will also put points on your license for the seat belt ticket. Those points can also impact your insurance rates.  In addition, in some states the driver can be ticketed if passengers are not wearing seat belts.

How do seat belt laws vary across the country?

Each state regulates what level of seat belt law they enforce. This often impacts the percentage of seat belt users in the state, with more relaxed laws leading to lower seat belt usage. Conversely, states with more strict rules have a higher rate of use and less death from accidents.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the states’ seat belt laws include:

  • 17 states and D.C. have seat belt laws for all positions in a vehicle
  • 16 states only enforce seat belts in the front seat
  • 17 states have secondary statutes or otherwise minimal regulations

Just because your state doesn’t require you to wear a seat belt doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear one. Your insurer won’t be happy if you aren’t doing everything to prevent injury. This includes something as simple as buckling your seat belt.

When did seat belt laws start?

The U.S. Gov. didn’t pass the first seat belt law until January 1, 1968. Title 49  of the United States code provided a federal law requiring cars to have seat belts in all positions. Some of the milestones in seat belt laws include:

  • 1973: The National Highway Admin. required that all new cars be built with a mechanism that would only allow a car to be started once the seat belt is buckled.
  • 1983: A decade later, seat belts reached the Supreme Court, and they responded unanimously in favor of the law.
  • 1984: New York became the first state to require front-seat drivers to wear a seat belt a year later.

From there, it was a slow climb into the 1990s until most states had implemented some form of front seat driver seat belt laws. Now, New Hampshire is the only state that doesn’t have legal seat belt requirements for drivers and passengers over 18.

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How do seat belts protect your health?

Accidents are unpredictable and happen every day. You should always wear your seat belt to ensure that you’re safe.

Seat belts can help prevent a variety of injuries during an accident, including:

  • Being ejected from the vehicle
  • Moved and then hurt by an airbag
  • Making an impact with the windshield

Everyone has heard horror stories about accidents with people who become seriously injured as a result. Keep yourself safe and wear your seat belt. 

How effective are seat belts in preventing severe injury and death?

Seat belt laws save lives. The evidence in this case is clearly in favor of seat belt use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, seat belts reduce the risk of drivers and front-seat passengers by 45%, while serious injuries have been cut by around 50%. Seat belts are often the difference between life and death in a car accident.

The CDC further credits seat belts with saving hundreds of thousands of lives between 1981 and 2010. This number has likely only grown in the last decade with the encouragement of safe-driving messaging in public schools and other media.

Seat belt Laws and Car Insurance: The Bottom Line

While the seat belt laws vary between states, that doesn’t mean you should change your policy as you move across the country. Seat belts are proven to save lives, and are one of the best safety devices on your car.

Seat belt laws can affect your insurance as well, as we have seen. Save on rates and save lives by buckling up every time.

Wearing your seat belt is smart, and you can save on insurance when you do. Enter your ZIP code into our free quote tool to compare rates from top companies.

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