Seatbelt & Safety In Washington
Most seat belt laws in the United States are left to the states. However, the first seat belt law was a federal law, Title 49 of the United States Code, Chapter 301, Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, which took effect on January 1, 1968, that required all vehicles (except buses) to be fitted with seat belts in all designated seating positions. This law has since been modified to require three-point seat belts in outboard-seating positions, and finally three-point seat belts in all seating positions. Initially, seat belt use was voluntary. New York was the first state to pass a law which required vehicle occupants to wear seat belts, a law that came into effect on December 1, 1984.
U.S. seatbelt laws may be subject to primary enforcement or secondary enforcement. Primary enforcement allows a police officer to stop and ticket a driver if he or she observes a violation. Secondary enforcement means that a police officer may only stop or cite a driver for a seatbelt violation if the driver committed another primary violation (such as speeding, running a stop sign, etc.) at the same time. New Hampshire is the only U.S. state that does not by law require adult drivers to wear safety belts while operating a motor vehicle.
In 18 of the 50 states, the seat belt law is considered a secondary offense, which means that a police officer cannot stop and ticket a driver for the sole offense of not wearing a seatbelt. (One exception to this is Colorado, where children not properly restrained is a primary offense and brings a much larger fine.) If a driver commits a primary violation (e.g., for speeding) he may additionally be charged for not wearing a seatbelt. In most states the seat belt law was originally a secondary offense; in many it was later changed to a primary offense: California was the first state to do this, in 1993. Of the 30 with primary seat belt laws, all but 8, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas, originally had only secondary enforcement laws.
Seatbelt laws, often do not themselves apply to children; however, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have separate child restraint laws. Keep in mind these fines are the base fines only. In many cases considerable extra fees such as the head injury fund and court security fees can mark up the fine to almost five times as much in some cases. These are also "first offense" fines; a subsequent offense may be much higher.
A person involved in a car accident who was not using a seatbelt may be liable for damages far greater than if they had been using a seatbelt. However, when in court, most states protect motorists from having their damages reduced in a lawsuit due to the nonuse of a seatbelt, even if they were acting in violation of the law by not wearing the seatbelt. Currently, damages may be reduced for the nonuse of a seatbelt in 16 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida (See F.S.A. 316.614(10)), Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.