Seatbelt 101 in North Carolina
As annoying at seatbelts can sometimes be, there are consequences associated with failing to wear your seatbelt. Consequences can range from monetary penalties if you’re stopped by the police, serious bodily injuries if you are involved in a collision, or even death. It is likely that at some point in your life that you have encountered that moment when you decided not to wear your seatbelt because you were only driving across the street or to the grocery store just a minute away from your home. As tempting as it may be, this is never the best option for many different reasons, some of which will be discussed in this text. Hopefully, by the time you are finished reading this, you will be well informed about wearing your seatbelt and will overcome the urge to skip wearing your seatbelt when you are driving or are a passenger in a vehicle, even for a short distance.
In making the conscious decision whether to wear your seatbelt, it is important that you first understand the law. In North Carolina, it is mandatory that each occupant of a vehicle wear a seatbelt. NCGS § 20-135.2A. However, just like most other laws, there are limited exceptions to this law. The following exceptions apply to mandatory North Carolina seatbelt legislation:
- A driver or occupant of a noncommercial vehicle who has a medical or physical condition that prevents appropriate seatbelt usage;
- An individual who has a professionally diagnosed mental phobia against wearing seatbelts or vehicle restraints;
- The driver or occupant of a motor vehicle that is operated by a rural carrier of the United States Postal service while performing normal job duties;
- A motor vehicle that is operated by a newspaper delivery person while engaged in the delivery of newspapers on his or her specified route;
- A driver or passenger who frequently stops and leaves a vehicle, so long as the speed of the vehicle does not exceed 20 miles per hour (MPH) between stops;
- A driver or occupant who delivers property, so long as the speed of the vehicle does not exceed 20 MPH between delivery stops;
- Any vehicle that is licensed and registered as a property carrying vehicle, in accordance with weight requirements, while being used for agricultural purposes in intrastate commerce;
- Any motor vehicle that is not required to be equipped with seat belts under federal law;
- Any occupant of a motor home, as defined in NCGS 20-4.01(27)(d)(2), who is not the driver or a front seat passenger;
- An occupant who is being transported in the back seat and in custody of a law enforcement officer; and
- A passenger of a residential garbage or recycling truck while the truck is operating during collection rounds.
NCGS § 20-135.2A(c)(1-8).
So, you may be asking yourself what may happen if you are stopped by the police for failure to wear a seatbelt. Failure to wear a seatbelt constitutes an infraction and one must pay a twenty-five dollar and fifty cents penalty in addition to court costs. NCGS § 20-135.2A(e). Outside of this penalty, there are no other monetary or criminal consequences for failure to wear a seatbelt. Although a police officer may stop a vehicle where he/ she can see that a front seat passenger is not wearing a seatbelt, an officer may not stop a vehicle on the sole ground that a rear passenger does not have on a seatbelt. NCGS § 20-135.2A(d1). Failing to wear a seatbelt as a rear passenger comes with a ten-dollar penalty, and no court costs must be paid. NCGS § 20-135.2A(e).
If you are a driver who has one or more passengers in a vehicle who are under the age of sixteen, each such passenger must be properly secured in a child passenger restraint system or a seatbelt that meets applicable federal standards. NCGS § 20-137.1(a). It is important to note the specific language in this section of the legislation. This section states that such passengers must be “properly” secured. Thus, it is very possible that if you get pulled over by an officer and a child is in a restraint system, but not properly restrained, you may receive a citation. Children who are under age eight and who weigh less than eighty pounds must be properly secured in a rear seat. NCGS § 20-137.1(a1). However, if the child restraint system is designed for use with airbags, the child may be a front seat passenger. Id. If there is not a seating position equipped with a lap and shoulder belt to secure the child passenger restraint and the child is under age eight and between forty and eighty pounds, a child may be restrained with only a properly fitted lap belt. Id.
The provisions under this section of the statute do not apply to: ambulances and other emergency vehicles; when all seating positions with child passenger restraint systems or seatbelts are occupied or to vehicles that are not required by federal law to have seatbelts. NCGS § 20-137.1(b).
The penalties under NCGS 20-137.1 are a bit more extensive than the penalties involving violations involving only adults. Any violation of this legislation may lead to the assessment of two drivers license points. NCGS § 20-137.1(d)(1). In addition, any driver who violates this legislation must pay a penalty of no more than twenty-five dollars. NCGS § 20-137.1(c). A driver who is charged with violating this section will not be convicted of he or she provides satisfactory proof at the time of his or her trial that he or she has acquired an approved child restraint system for a vehicle that the child is normally transported in. Id.
So, now that you have baseline knowledge of seatbelt law in North Carolina, hopefully you will decide to always wear your seatbelt and to always properly restrain any children that you may transport. Although the fines are not excessive for violation of the law, the consequences including having to attend court, being seriously injured or dying outweigh not wearing a seatbelt. It is important to also know that although you should practice safety and always wear your seatbelt, if you do not wear your seatbelt, it does not constitute negligence per se or contributory negligence if you are involved in an auto accident. If you have any questions about the law and/or your rights, please contact our office at 704-714-1450 to speak with one of our attorneys.