So you’ve decided to take to the highways for your next family vacation. Your vehicle is tuned up and your children are geared up for the big adventure. But, as any parent knows, no matter how many pit stops you make along the way, kids get restless during long car rides. When that happens, inevitably they will want to take their seatbelts off to “get more comfortable,” which can lead to them playing musical chairs or getting up to stretch, all while the vehicle is in motion. Before this takes place on your next road trip, keep this in mind. According to the National Safety Council, in 2005, of the nearly 43,000 people who died on our nation’s highways, 60 percent were not wearing safety belts.
There are two types of safety belt laws: primary and secondary. A primary law allows a law enforcement officer to write a ticket if he or she simply observes an unbelted driver or passenger. Under a secondary law, an officer cannot ticket anyone for a safety belt violation unless the motorist is stopped for another infraction. As of August 2005, 22 states, including Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Okalahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have primary safety belt laws. If you are stopped and ticketed you can expect to pay maximum fines that range from $10 in Tennessee to $200 in Texas. By the way, New Hampshire is the only state that has no adult safety belt law.
All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territories have child passenger safety laws requiring children to be properly secured in a child safety seat. In fact earlier this year Wisconsin’s governor signed a bill that requires children under the age of eight (it used to be four), to sit in a booster seat when riding in a car. Eight- year-olds can only graduate to a seat belt in the back seat if they weigh 80 pounds and are at least 4-ft. 9-in. tall. While there has been backlash to what some see as an “overly strict” law, it is an effort to save lives on the road. So the next time you are tempted to let your children unbuckle their belts mid-ride, resist until you can pull over to a safe area. It may put a dent in your travel schedule, but it may also help avoid a tragedy.
Up next in our series: Planning For Your Road Trip Part 3: Safe Driving