Are Seat Belts Required for All Passenger Vehicles?
According to Georgia law, all drivers of passenger vehicles use seat belts. In Georgia, a passenger vehicle is a vehicle where there is seating for other persons besides the driver. Examples of passenger vehicles would include cars, vans, SUVs designed to seat ten (10) or fewer passengers, and pickup trucks. It once was the case that pickup trucks in Georgia were exempt from this law. This is no longer the case.
Do I Have to Wear My Seatbelt if I am Sitting in the Backseat?
Yes and No. If you are under the age of 18, you must wear your seat belt while sitting in the backseat of a passenger vehicle. If you are older than 18 years of age and riding in the backseat of a passenger vehicle, you are under no legal obligation to wear a seat belt. However, this could change as there are efforts underway to make Georgia the same as most other states requiring back seat passengers to buckle up. Senator John Albers of Roswell, Georgia, is the chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee. Currently, the Senate has voted supportively to make it a law that all backseat passengers wear seatbelts. As with any bill, it must first pass through the complete legislative process, taking some time. Currently, anyone who is 18 years old, or older, is breaking no law in Georgia by not wearing their seatbelt in the back seat of a passenger vehicle.
Does Wearing a Seatbelt Make a Difference?
A 2019 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that out of the 22,215 passenger vehicle crashes on record involving fatalities, 47% of those drivers or passengers killed were not wearing their seat belts. According to recent figures by NHTSA, 90.7% of drivers in the United States now agree that choosing to wear a safety belt is one of the top ways of protecting themselves in the event of a car crash. In 2017, NHTSA’s statistical data reflected that seat belts saved nearly 15,000 lives. Additional studies showed that over 2,500 more lives could have been saved by seat belt usage alone. There is no doubt that the statistical evidence strongly supports the fact that wearing a seatbelt is a true difference-maker.
Are There Exceptions to Seat Belt Rules in Georgia?
Georgia law affirms seat belt usage as a requirement. But there are some exceptions that the state allows to this rule. We have previously covered that back seat passengers 18 years of age, or older, are not required to wear a seat belt. In that instance, it is probably more accurate to categorize this as part of the standard rules. But there are true exceptions that apply to the standard rules. For example, some drivers or passengers may have a documented medical condition that prevents them from wearing a seat belt. If you fall into this category, you should always be prepared to produce documentation to any police officer that questions you about not wearing your seatbelt. Doing this removes any doubt in the officer’s mind about the veracity of your claim of being unable to wear your seatbelt. Other exemptions to seat belt usage may include:
- Drivers or passengers delivering newspapers;
- Drivers or passengers performing emergency services;
- Drivers or passengers in classic cars with a model year before 1965; and
- Drivers or passengers of delivery vehicles that make frequent stops and do not exceed 15 mph between deliveries or stops.
Given the statistics supplied by NHTSA previously regarding seat belts and safety, it is arguably more prudent to wear a seat belt when possible. At the same time, if you feel you unjustly received a citation for not wearing your seat belt, keep in mind the exceptions listed. You may have a good reason to have the ticket thrown out.
What is the Fine for a Seat Belt Violation?
In Georgia, the maximum fine for an adult driver or front-seat passenger not wearing a seatbelt is $15.00. If the unrestrained (or improperly restrained) occupant of a passenger vehicle is a child that is eight years old or older, the fine for that child not being properly restrained is $25.00. If the unrestrained (or improperly restrained) occupant of a passenger vehicle is a child that is less than eight years old, the fine is $50.00 for the first offense and increases to $100.00 for the second offense.
If I Received a Ticket for a Seat Belt Violation, Do I Still Have A Claim?
It is not uncommon for honest people to think they may have disqualified themselves from having a claim against another driver if both drivers received citations. The thought process usually goes this way. The driver that turned left and into your path of travel (as an example) received a ticket for failing to yield to oncoming traffic (you). At the same time, you also were given a ticket. In your case, you received a ticket for not wearing your seatbelt. Since both drivers were ticketed, you may assume you now have no right to pursue a claim against the other driver. However, there is a significant difference between your ticket and the ticket given to the other driver. Not wearing your seatbelt played no role in causing the accident. When the other car turned left into your path of travel, this is what caused the accident. The other driver’s actions were the proximate cause of the accident. An easy way to understand this is to employ the “but not for” test. Simply fill in the blank. “But not for” _______, the crash would never have happened. By this test, we can see that wearing or not wearing a seat belt had nothing to do with what caused your accident. Therefore, you still have every right to pursue a claim against the other driver.
What is a Seat Belt Injury?
The function of a seat belt, in part, is to keep you in your seat upon sudden impact or sudden deceleration. In more extreme cases, seat belts keep you from being ejected from your vehicle. In the event of a sudden stop or crash, the strength of the seat belt, as it holds you in place, may save your life. At the same time, it probably did so at the cost of some injuries to your upper body. Given the sudden change in velocity and dissipation of energy often involved in car crashes, skin abrasions and deep bruising from a seat belt can occur across a victim’s neck and chest area. Depending on the amount of pull a seat belt may have against placed your body, internal injuries involving the spleen or liver may also occur. Impacts by a seat belt against the cervical spine can result in possible fractures to the cervical vertebrae and clavicle fractures. Additional injuries could involve rib fractures or pulmonary contusions. Suppose you are pregnant and are concerned for your unborn child due to the stress across your abdomen caused by a seat belt holding you in place. In that case, you should seek immediate medical attention to ensure there are no underlying or hidden injuries. Always seek treatment from a skilled medical professional as quickly as possible after an auto accident.
Is the Seat Belt the Cause of My Injuries?
A seatbelt is not the proximate cause of your injuries. Let us go back to our previous example where another diver turned left into your path of travel. As a result of them turning in front of you, leaving you with no sufficient time to make an evasive maneuver, the front of your vehicle came into contact with the side of theirs. Upon impact, you were thrust forward, and your seat belt kept you in place. You now have injuries across your chest from where the seatbelt was holding you in place. In terms of who caused you to have injuries across your chest, the other driver is the cause of your injuries. But not for the other driver pulling in front of you; injuries from your seat belt holding you in place would not have happened. Again, the other driver is the proximate cause of your seat belt injuries. This may seem obvious. But it could become an important distinction you could inadvertently gloss over when talking to an adjuster about injuries the other driver caused.
What to do if you Have Injuries Involving a Seat Belt
If you have injuries from an auto accident due to another driver’s negligence, getting medical attention as quickly as possible is essential. In accidents involving several injured areas of your body, be sure to start by communicating to the emergency responder and ER staff every area of pain. If you did not receive immediate treatment from an emergency room, be sure to give a detailed report to the first medical provider you treat with as it relates to your accident. In addition to taking care of your health, documenting your injuries is essential for an insurance adjuster to evaluate your claim to pain and suffering. As you seek additional ongoing medical treatment for your accident-related injuries, you should take inventory of injuries that may have gone under-appreciated initially. For example, suppose you received a concussion from an impact. In that case, you will be very pre-occupied with the difficulties of post-concussive syndrome. As the experience of post-concussive syndrome begins to dissipate, injuries and soreness from the seatbelt holding you in place may begin to be more realized. In such instances, be sure to communicate all experiences of pain in this area to your doctor.
Tired of Arguing With the Insurance Adjuster?
We know what injured victims need to win their case. Our law firm has over twenty years of experience obtaining maximum outcomes for Georgia victims. Our goal is to support you and get you the best result in your injury claim. If you are looking for help after your accident, please give us a call so that we can speak to you about all of your options.
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