North Carolina state law require each person in a motor vehicle to use a seatbelt. The requirement extends to backseat passengers, and it does not matter if an individual is in a car, truck, SUV or passenger van. Children younger than 16 must be “properly secured in a child passenger restraint system or seat belt which meets federal standards applicable at the time of its manufacture.”
As personal injury and wrongful death attorneys who often represent victims of negligent and reckless drivers in North Carolina, we encourage compliance with these laws. Buckling up saves lives. At the same time, provisions inserted in both the seatbelt and the child restraint laws make it clear that failing to use a seatbelt or forgetting to strap in a young passenger does not prohibit filing and collecting on insurance claims.
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Exemptions From the North Carolina Seatbelt Law
Exemptions from the general seatbelt law (N.C.G.S. 20-135.2A) and the child restraint law (N.C.G.S. 20-137.1) exist, but none likely apply to anyone reading this summary. For instance, the general seatbelt law states that no one can be required to buckle up in a vehicle that does come equipped with belts, such as a bus. Also, rural mail delivery vehicles and garbage/salvage trucks are not subject to the seatbelt law.
Interestingly, documenting a mental condition or phobia that makes using a seatbelt in the way it is designed can also excuse a North Carolina resident from complying with the law.
Exemptions from the child restraint law are limited to “ambulances or other emergency vehicles; if all seating positions equipped with child passenger restraint systems or seat belts are occupied; or to vehicles which are not required by federal law or regulation to be equipped with seat belts.”
A Closer Look at North Carolina’s Child Safety Seat Law
Children who are younger than 8 years of age and who weigh less than 80 pounds must be restrained in a federally approved safety seat or use an accurately sized booster seat.
BuckleUpNC recommends placing children younger than 12 months and weighing less than 20 pounds only in rear-facing safety seats in the backseat. The nonprofit also advises parents and caregivers to check whether a safety seat placed in the front passenger position is certified for use with an airbag.
Enforcement of North Carolina’s Seatbelt Law
Failure to use a seatbelt is not a primary offense. This means a ticket can only be issued if a traffic stop is made for another reason.
The statutory fine for a driver or front seat who does not use a seatbelt is $22.50 plus court costs and fees. A backseat passenger cited for not using a seatbelt will be fined $10 and not charged additional fees.
Enforcement of North Carolina’s Child Restraint Law
Drivers who fail to properly restrain children younger than 16 face a maximum fine of $25 and 2 penalty points against their license. The penalty is capped per vehicle, so transporting more than one child who is not properly restrained will not bring additional fines or points.
The law permits ticketed drivers to avoid the penalty entirely by providing a traffic court with documentation of installing an appropriate child safety seat.
How Not Wearing a Seatbelt or Using a Child Safety Seat Affects Insurance Claims
North Carolina courts cannot consider failing to buckle up to be a type of contributory negligence. This is very important because any finding of contributory negligence invalidates personal injury and wrongful death claims.
North Carolina and Virginia are two of just four states that continue following the outdated and unjust common law rule of contributory negligence. It is good that the seatbelt law recognizes that failing to buckle up has nothing to do with causing a traffic accident.