Changes in 2019
A new law regarding child car seats and restraints was passed in May of 2018 and will take effect on July 1, 2019. The new law requires that children remain in rear-facing car seats until age two or until they reach the car seat manufacturer’s minimum weight requirement for forward facing.
This means that children under two years old can be placed in forward facing car seats so long as they have reached the minimum safe weight. However, safety experts agree it is best to err on the side of caution and keep children in rear-facing car seats as long as possible.
The new car seat requirement is the only change to Virginia’s seat belt and car seat laws for 2019. Some Virginia law makers have been pushing for stricter seat belt laws in the last couple of years, but there has been no movement on these proposals this year. Virginia’s current seat belt laws are explained below.
Seat Belt and Safety Facts
It is well established that seat belts save lives. The CDC reports that wearing a seat belt can reduce your risk of death by 45% in the event of a crash and your risk of serious injury by 50%. More than half of drivers killed crashes each year are not wearing their seat belts.
Although the benefits of seat belt use have been known for decades, the law has been slower to catch up. The federal law requiring all vehicles (except for buses) to have seat belts was passed in 1968. It has been amended to increase safety standards, now requiring three-point harnesses in all seating positions.
Despite the law, though, seat belt use remained completely voluntary for a long time. There are still no federal laws regarding seat belt use. These laws vary by state, although every state except New Hampshire has some kind of seat belt law.
Virginia Seat Belt Laws
In Virginia, seat belt use is required by law. Drivers and passengers 16 and older must wear a seat belt when sitting in the front seat. Children under 16 must be wearing a seat belt or secured in an appropriate child safety seat regardless of where they are seated in the vehicle.
For adults 18 years and older, the law in Virginia is a secondary enforcement law. This means that an officer can’t pull you over for only a seat belt violation. However, if they pull you over for a different violation, such as speeding or an expired inspection sticker, they can also fine you for not wearing a seat belt.
Virginia drivers should be aware that not wearing a seat belt is a primary offense in most other states, so it’s important to be extra cautious when traveling across state lines.
For those under 18, the seat belt law in Virginia is a primary offense. If a driver under 18 is not wearing a seat belt, they can be pulled over for that violation on its own. This also applies to any driver transporting children under 18. In this case, the driver would be fined due to negligence.
Fines for violating the seat belt or child safety seat laws range from $25-50.
There are several exceptions to the Virginia seat belt laws.
- Medical exemption – you can be exempted from the seat belt laws if a doctor determines that your condition would make wearing a seat belt impractical or impossible. You will need the doctor’s statement in writing to qualify for this exemption.
- Law enforcement officers in situations that would make wearing a seat belt impractical.
- Drivers and passengers of taxis.
- Rural mail carriers
- Trash collectors and certain other municipal workers while actively engaged in their work.
Buses, including school buses, are still not required to have seat belts installed. Many experts are now calling upon lawmakers to change this, suggesting that all newly manufactured school buses should be equipped with seat belts.
Always Buckle Up
Through a combination of laws and public awareness campaigns, seat belt use has drastically increased over the past 20-30 years. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 11.5% of drivers and front seat passengers do not wear their safety belts.
Those who don’t buckle up not only increase their own risk of serious injury or death. They can also increase the danger for others in the vehicle who did wear their seat belts.
While the punishments for not wearing your seat belt are relatively minor, and there are exceptions to the law, it is always best to wear your safety belt every time you drive or ride in a car.