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Pennsylvania Seat Belt Laws 2020: Complete Guide

By: Anapol Weiss

A seat belt could be the only thing standing between a motor vehicle passenger and a fatal injury. Manufacturers have designed motor vehicles to protect users from injury only if they wear safety restraint systems. A seat belt could be the difference between life and death. It is your responsibility to ensure you and all passengers – including children – obey Pennsylvania’s safety restraint laws. Otherwise, you could face serious injuries and legal penalties.

Seat Belt Statistics

Seat belts save lives. Wearing a seat belt in a motor vehicle increases your odds of surviving an accident by 60%. A seat belt keeps you and your passengers from flying about the cabin in a collision. It also helps prevent ejections, which can be deadly. Finally, wearing a seat belt allows the airbags to work properly.

These two safety devices work in tandem to protect occupants from serious personal injuries. Not wearing a seat belt jeopardizes the safety features of the vehicle.

Seat belts saved an estimated 14,668 lives in 2016. Yet almost 27.5 million people in the U.S. still do not buckle up. In 2016, 48% of people who died in auto accidents were not wearing their seat belts.

An additional 2,456 people would have survived car accidents in 2016 had they buckled up. Studies show that properly wearing a seat belt can decrease the risk of serious injury by 50%, and fatal injury by 45%.

It is just as important to properly buckle kids up as it is to wear your seat belt as an adult. Car accidents are a leading cause of death among children.

In 2016, 35% of children 12 years old and younger who died in car accidents were not using child restraint systems. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of children between the ages of 13 and 15 who died were not wearing seat belts. Using child-appropriate car seats and seat belts reduces the risk of child injury in a crash by up to 82%.

Is it Illegal Not to Wear a Seatbelt in Pennsylvania?

Yes, it is against the law in the state of Pennsylvania to operate or ride in a motor vehicle without wearing a seat belt. The state’s seat belt law is primary when the driver is under the age of 18. Police officers do not need another reason to pull a driver over, other than not wearing a seat belt.

After the age of 18, however, the seat belt law becomes secondary. Police can only issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt over the age of 18 if they conducted the traffic stop for another reason, such as speeding.

In 2018, Pennsylvania’s seat belt usage rate was 88.5%. This is among the highest of all states that enforce secondary adult seat belt laws. Studies show that every 1% increase in seat belt usage saves an additional six to eight lives.

In Pennsylvania, the age group most likely not to wear a seat belt is 16 to 24-year-olds. The penalty for not wearing a seat belt is a fine of $10 for passengers 8 to 10 years old, or $75 for passengers 4 to 8 (plus court costs).

Pennsylvania’s Primary Child Passenger Safety Law

Pennsylvania takes child safety seriously. It is mandatory for all children under the age of 18 to wear proper safety harnesses and devices while in a motor vehicle.

The Pennsylvania Code Chapter 102 details the state’s child passenger protection laws. It lists the specific restraint requirements for children of different age groups.

  • Children under four years old. The requirement is a child passenger restraint system appropriate for the child’s height and weight, fastened using a safety seat belt system.

  • Children four to eight years old. These children must use a seat belt with an appropriately fitting child booster seat, according to manufacturer recommendations.

  • Children 8 years old to 18. Children 8 to 18 must wear seat belts while riding in or operating a vehicle, at all times.

Pennsylvania has passed five major acts further protecting child passengers over the years. Pennsylvania’s child safety restraint laws are primary, not secondary. Police officers can pull people over purely to issue tickets for failing to properly restrain child passengers. Tickets for violations are more expensive than secondary adult violations. Failing to comply could result in a fine of $75, plus court costs, a $45 surcharge, $10 in administrative costs, and $10 toward the EMS Fund.

What Are the Height and Weight Requirements for a Booster Seat in PA?

Pennsylvania’s child safety laws do not only require drivers to secure children under eight – they also detail how to properly secure child passengers according to age, height, and weight. It is your responsibility as a driver to make sure your children use the proper safety restraint devices based on the law and safety seat manufacturer instructions.

  • Birth to two years old. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recommends all children two and under to ride in rear-facing car seats. Infant-only and convertible car seats are both acceptable.

  • Two to three years. Best practice is to keep your child rear facing for as long as possible. Once your child reaches the manufacturer’s height or weight limit on the rear-facing seat, transition to a forward-facing car seat with a harness.

  • Children between four and eight. Use a car seat until your child reaches the maximum height or weight limit. Then, switch to a booster seat. Those who weigh less than 40 pounds may use a child passenger restraint system instead of a booster seat as appropriate for weight. Those who weigh more than 80 pounds or exceed 4’9″ in height may use a seat belt without a booster seat.

  • Children 8 to 12 years old. These kids may remain in booster seats if they have not yet reached the maximum height or weight limit. It is important to keep your child in a booster seat until he or she can use a seat belt properly. The belt should lie across the shoulder, chest, and upper thighs.

Keep children in the back seat of the vehicle as often as possible. Child passengers are safer in the back due to airbags in the front seat. The only exception to Pennsylvania’s child passenger restraint laws is if the parent has written certification from a physician stating that the use of such a system is impractical for the child, complete with the medical or physical reason why.

Pennsylvania Police Increasing Seat Belt Enforcement at Night

Pennsylvania participates in the national “Click it or Ticket” seat belt awareness campaign each year. Over 600 law enforcement agencies on the east coast increase seat belt law enforcement at state borders in the months of May and November. In Pennsylvania, police have historically increased enforcement of seat belt laws at night, when many drivers believe it is too dark for officers to notice they are not wearing seat belts. Pennsylvania police use Traffic Enforcement Zones and an increase of patrol officers to catch lawbreakers.

Tips for Child Car Safety

Always obey the law when buckling yourself, your passengers, and child passengers into a vehicle. Never drive with a child unrestrained, no matter how long or short the drive. Studies show three out of four car accidents occur within 25 miles of home. Do not risk your child’s health and safety by failing to use a seat belt, even if you are only traveling down the road.

  • Purchase a car seat new, not used. A used seat could have issues that compromise child safety, or it may be on a recall list. If you cannot afford a car seat, many counties in Pennsylvania offer car seat loan programs.

  • Choose a car seat based on your child’s age, height, and weight. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for how to install and use the device.

  • Use a car seat check if you are not sure if you have properly installed or are using your car seat correctly. Professionals are available to check your car seat at various times and locations throughout the state.

  • Keep your child in a rear-facing car seat up to the seat’s maximum height or weight. This is the safest system for your child.

Child passenger safety should be your top priority as a driver. No one can predict a crash, but you can prepare for one. It is your duty to give children their best odds of survival in a crash by obeying the state’s child restraint laws. Failing to properly secure children could contribute to serious and fatal injuries in a car accident. It could also lead to parent liability for a child’s injuries or death.

Lack of Proper Restraint and Injury Liability

Breaking any of Pennsylvania’s seat belt or child restraint laws could damage your chances of securing compensation after an auto accident. Pennsylvania is a no-fault insurance state, meaning you will seek financial relief from your own auto insurer after a crash, regardless of who was at fault. Your insurance company has the right to ask whether you and your passengers were properly restrained at the time of the accident. If the answer is no, the insurance company may deny your claim or lower payout.

Disobeying Pennsylvania’s restraint law is a valid reason for an auto insurance company to deny an injury claim. If an investigation shows that you or a loved one’s injuries may not have happened, or may not have been as severe, had you been wearing a seat belt, the insurance company could use this as a defense and potentially reduce your compensation amount. This could mean not receiving enough to pay for your medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and other losses.

Stay Safe – Buckle Up

Properly securing everyone in the vehicle is the best way to arrive at your destination alive. Car accidents are unpredictable. Stay prepared by always restraining all child passengers correctly, and buckling your own seat belt. Wearing a seat belt can protect you and your loved ones from critical injuries in a collision, and keep you out of legal trouble.