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Texas Seat Belt Law

The Texas seat belt statute

Like every state except for New Hampshire, Texas has a law on the books requiring the use of safety restraints for people riding in motor vehicles. In this case, the relevant law is Sec. 545.413 of the Transportation Code, which details the circumstances in which seat belt use is required and the fines for not doing so. Under section A of this statute, it is illegal for anyone, adult or child, to ride in the front seat of a vehicle that has seat belts without having their seat belt properly fastened. Section B states that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 17 to ride in any part of a motor vehicle without a seat belt if the vehicle is equipped with them. Therefore, adults can use their discretion when riding in the back, although you should always wear a seat belt anyway for safety reasons. Under this statute, the driver is responsible for making sure all passengers are secured as required by Texas safety restraint law.

For children young enough and small enough to need a child safety seat, Sec. 545.412 of the Transportation Code requires that they be secured, as well.


Fines for not wearing a seat belt     

Under Texas seat belt laws, the fines for not wearing a seat belt depend on the age of the passenger.  If the passenger is over 17 and in the front seat of a vehicle without a belt on, the fine can be anywhere from $25 to $50. If the passenger is under 17 and riding without a seatbelt, the fine is much higher: $100-200. Of course, there are also court costs, which can vary depending on where you got ticketed. A judge may also order you to complete a driving safety course that focuses on the importance of using a seat belt. Like regular defensive driving courses, you have the option of going to a classroom to take the course or of taking it through an alternative delivery method such as video or CD.

To find a classroom location near you, click here.

However, you also have the option of taking the seatbelt course online through Driving University. Why waste a beautiful afternoon stuck inside a classroom, learning about Texas seatbelt laws? With Driving University’s online course, you can complete your Texas seat belt course in your spare time, in the comfort of your own home. Once you complete the course, Driving University will put your certificate out in the mail immediately!

To learn more about Driving University's Defensive Driving Course, click here.

Who is required to wear a seat belt?

For safety reasons, everyone riding in a vehicle should be bucked up anytime the vehicle is moving. However, Texas seat belt law only mandates that drivers and front seat passengers buckle up at all times. Adults are not required by law to have a seat belt on if they are riding in the back seat. However, children under 17 must be buckled up no matter where they sit.

Texas seat belt law does provide for a few exceptions for front seat passengers, such as for US Postal Service employees, newspaper delivery people and utility meter readers who have to get in and out of the car all the time as part of their job duties. Also, if you have a medical condition that makes it hazardous for you to have a seatbelt on, you can get a doctor's excuse for it. Additionally, seat belts are not required on small farm vehicles such as tractors that weigh less than 48,000 pounds.


Child seat info

Under Texas seat belt law, a child safety seat is required for all children who are both under the age of 5 and less than 36 inches tall. So, if you have a 4-year-old who is 42 inches tall, your child is not required to be in safety seat per the state statute. If your child is 6 years old and under 36 inches tall, he or she is also not required to be in a safety seat. However, experts do recommend for safety reasons that any child shorter than 4 feet 9 inches tall use a booster seat, no matter what age group they fall into. Fines for violating the Texas child safety belt statute can be pretty hefty: anywhere from $100-200. More important than a fine, however, is the life of your child. If you do get in an accident, having your child properly secured in a child safety seat can reduce the risk of death by 71 percent for babies and 54 percent for toddlers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


However, it's important to make sure that the child safety seat you use fits your child correctly and that you have the child secured in the seat correctly. A safety seat that doesn't fit or that isn't fastened together correctly greatly increases the risk of injury or death to your child if there is an accident (although it's still safer than the child being unsecured). Even when they are restrained by child seat belts, children are always safer in the back seat. Infants should be in rear-facing car seats until about age 1, toddlers and small children should be in forward-facing seats until they are either 4 years old or weigh 40 pounds, and larger children should use booster seats.

Today's child safety seats come in so many shapes and sizes that it can be difficult for a parent to know how to set them up correctly. To help, the National Highway Safety Administration offers an Ease of Use Rating system for child safety seats. They also offer free clinics where you can bring your car seat to make sure that it is set up correctly and that it fits your baby correctly. You can find the nearest inspection station by clicking here.


Reasons for using

Why should you wear a seatbelt? Well, one obvious reason is simply that Texas seat belt laws require you to. If you get caught breaking Texas seat belt law, you could face the hassle of a court date and/or a fairly high fine. However, the best reason to wear your seatbelt is the fact that if you get in an accident, it could save your life. For example, in a paper entitled "The Effects of Mandatory Seat Belt Laws on Driving Behavior and Traffic Fatalities" published in the 2003 edition of The Review of Economics and Statistics, the authors estimate that for every 1% increase in seatbelt usage, 136 lives are saved. Also, according to the National Highway Safety Administration, wearing your seat belt gives you a 45% better chance of surviving a bad wreck. If you were gambling for money in Las Vegas, you’d do anything to increase your odds of winning by 45%, wouldn’t you? Why should it be any different when it’s your life at stake?

With those statistics, why would anyone not wear a seatbelt? Sometimes, people just forget. However, many people choose not to wear a seatbelt on purpose, possibly due to one of the following misconceptions:

  • Seat belts can trap you in a burning or flooded vehicle, so it's safer not wear one.
  •   If I have a car with airbags, I don't need to wear a seat belt, too.
  •   I'm strong enough to brace myself against the steering wheel if there is a crash.
  •   I'm a good driver. I've never had an accident before, so why should I worry about a seat belt?

Despite all those nail-bitingly tense movie scenes where the hero or heroine has to struggle to free themselves from a vehicle as it slowly fills with water or flame creeps ever closer to the gas tank, only .005% of crashes actually involve fire or water. In the other 99.995% of crashes, you are more likely to be tossed into oncoming traffic, get crushed under your own car, or go right through the windshield. Also, even if your car has airbags, you should still wear a seat belt. The seatbelt and the airbag are designed to work together-the airbag is far less effective without the seat belt, and may even cause injury if you aren’t properly buckled in.

If you think you’re strong enough to brace yourself for a crash, here is a quick physics lesson for you: Multiply your weight by the speed of the vehicle, and that's how many pounds of force you would have to exert to keep yourself from going through the windshield. Let's work a sample problem, shall we?

Question: Arnold Schwarzenegger weighs approximately 235 pounds. If he is in a vehicle going 35 miles per hour and not wearing a seatbelt, how many pounds of force will he have to exert to keep his head from smashing into the windshield?

Answer: 235 pounds x 35 miles per hour = 8,225 pounds of force!

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger is not strong enough to brace himself against the steering wheel in a crash. Are you stronger than Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Finally, even if you are a great driver, you still have to worry about all of the not-so-great drivers out there. Sure, you may have been driving for 30 years without being involved in an accident, but there’s a first time for everything. Stay safe and buckle up! 


Types of seat belts

The four most common types of seat belts used in automobiles are the lap belt, the sash belt, the lap and sash, and the three point harness. The lap belt is simply a belt that goes across the user’s waist. It was the most common type of seat belt in older cars, but today it is only used in the rear middle seats of some vehicles. The sash belt is worn over the shoulder. Although it was common in older cars, it's easy to slip out from under it. You’ll never see one in a newer vehicle. The lap and sash consists of 2 separate belts, one that goes across your lap and one that goes over your shoulder. Like the sash-only belt, lap-and-sash belts are generally only found in older cars. The three-point harness is the type of belt most commonly used today. It consists of a single belt that goes both across your lap and over your shoulder. In a collision, three-point harnesses and lap and shoulder belts help diffuse the force of the impact over the shoulders, chest and pelvis, greatly reducing the potential for injury.


How to use seat belts with children

Children who no longer need child safety seats may still be too small to use a regular seat belt safely. If a child is wearing a regular seat belt that does not fit correctly and there is an accident, the seat belt can injure the child's neck and internal organs. For children that are too big for a car seat and too small for just a seat belt, a booster seat can truly be a lifesaver.

Courtesy of the Texas Department of Public Safety, here is how to tell if you child needs a booster seat. First, tell your child to sit down in the car with his or back straight against the seat. Now, buckle him in and examine the way the child’s seat belt fits. The lap belt should fit over the top of your child's thighs, and the shoulder belt should fit across the middle of his chest. If the child’s safety belt doesn't fit correctly, or if the child's legs are too short for him to be able to bend his knees naturally when sitting with his back against the seat, then you need to get a booster seat

Most children don't outgrow the need for a booster seat until they are 8 years old or 4' 9" tall. However, statistics show many parents don't use booster seats for as long as they should. For example, according to the National Highway Safety Association, in 2006 only 1 out of every 5 children between the ages of 4 and 8 used a booster seat. Yes, booster seats are relatively new and you probably didn’t use one when you were a child. However, we now know that they do save lives. According the National Highway Safety Association's Booklet "2004 Motor Vehicle Occupant Protection Facts," children in a booster seat were 59% less likely to be injured in a crash. So, don't neglect the booster seat-it makes a big difference!

Remember, as the driver, it’s your responsibility to make sure all of your passengers are safe. Make sure they buckle up!

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