Seat Belt Laws in North Carolina

According to the CDC, most of the drivers and passengers killed in car accidents are unrestrained.

If a driver wears a seat belt, they can lower the risk of death in a crash by nearly 45 percent and the risk of severe injury by approximately 50 percent. Most of the time, people in the car are ejected from their seats during a crash and hit the windshield, dashboard, and steering wheel. All this leads to injuries. Therefore, wearing a seat belt can save you and the people riding with you from severe injuries and possible fatalities.

Knowing the importance and benefits of seat belts, a strict and comprehensive seat belt law in North Carolina guides drivers and passengers on how and when to use them for maximum protection.

Here’s a detailed explanation of the law and how it is designed to save lives and lower the rate of injuries and fatalities in car accidents. Take a look:

All Car Occupants Must Buckle Up

In North Carolina, each vehicle occupant must wear a seat belt under NCGS § 20-135.2A when the vehicle is in forward motion on the street or a highway. When it was first introduced in 1985, seat belt use was only mandatory for the driver and the front-seat passenger.

However, a decade ago, the seat belt usage law in North Carolina was amended and now requires all occupants in the vehicle to buckle up, including rear-seat passengers.

There is a separate statute, NCGS § 20-137.1, which requires drivers to be vigilant and careful when riding with passengers under 16 years of age. These passengers must be secured in a restraint system designed for children or a seat belt.


Just like most of the laws, there are exceptions to the seat belt laws too. Thus, the exceptions to the mandatory North Carolina seat belt law are:

  • Non-commercial vehicle drivers or occupants with physical or medical conditions that prevent them from being restrained by a seat belt
  • Newspaper delivery individuals while they are delivering newspapers
  • Rural letter carriers
  • Drivers or passengers who have to stop often and leave their vehicles if the vehicle speed between stops is 20mph or less
  • Property-carrying automobiles that are used in the intrastate commerce for agricultural purpose
  • Automobiles that aren’t required to have seat belts as per the federal law
  • Occupants of a motor home apart from the driver and the passengers seated in the front
  • Recycling or residential garbage truck passengers when the truck is in motion for collection rounds

Vehicles Covered

The seat belt law applies to all passenger vehicles with a capacity of <11 occupants as required by federal standards. These vehicles are manufactured after 1967, and vans and light trucks made after the year 1971.

Restraint Requirements

When you wear a seat belt, it must be worn properly as provided for the seating position. This means the lap and shoulder belt should be adequately worn even if the position is equipped with an automatic shoulder belt or airbag. Please note that keeping the shoulder belt under the arm or behind your back is not allowed.

Understanding the Responsibility and Penalties

If you’re a driver riding with children under 16, then per the seat belt law in North Carolina, you will be held responsible for them and yourself. So, you must make sure that everyone in the vehicle is properly restrained. However, passengers above sixteen are accountable for their actions.

If you fail to abide by the law, then you can be penalized. As per state law, the driver and front-seat passengers older than 15 will have to pay a penalty of $25 and court costs of $75. Also, your driver’s license and insurance points will be assessed. Moreover, front-seat passengers who fail to comply with the law may be issued citations to ensure compliance with § 20-135.2A.

Similarly, rear seat occupants older than age 15 will have to pay a penalty of $10. However, there are no court costs.

When it comes to understanding the seat belt law in North Carolina, law enforcement officers must also understand the requirement before they act on it, such as they can’t stop a motor vehicle if the rear seat passenger fails to buckle up. This is because NCGS § 20-135.2A(d1) categorizes the failure of the rear passenger to buckle up as a secondary violation, and for this, a vehicle should not be stopped.

However, if the officer lawfully stops a car for some other reason and in the process they learn about a rear seat belt violation, the officer can cite the motor vehicle driver for this offense. Did you know that in 2015 approximately 12,847 charges were issued for unbuckled backseat passengers and 13,808 for front-seat passengers? However, the charges for both these categories were outnumbered by unbuckled drivers, who were approximately 108,320.

Contact us for Legal Assistance

Contact us today if you have been in an accident despite following the seat belt law and injured due to someone else’s negligence. At the Law Office of Jason E. Taylor P.C., our experienced auto accident lawyer in North Carolina can review your case and provide you with legal assistance. We can fight for you to get justice and maximum compensation for injuries and losses incurred.

Let us evaluate your case. Contact us today for a free consultation.

We can help you pursue the compensation that you need to seek proper medical treatment and gain financial security to cope with the losses caused by a vehicle accident.



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