Seat Belt Laws in Washington

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Seat belts are effective in protecting drivers and passengers and reducing the severity of injuries in car accidents in Yakima and throughout Washington state. According to a Washington State Seatbelt Use report, more than 90 percent of front-seat motor vehicle occupants wore seat belts in a recent year. Authorities attribute the improved usage rate to regular law enforcement “Click It or Ticket” campaigns, road signs, and education efforts.

Seat belt use tends to be higher on state routes than on city streets and county roads. Despite the high usage rate overall, the number of unrestrained fatalities and serious injuries increased substantially to the highest levels in over a decade.

Let’s review the Washington state seat belt laws and the consequences of not complying with the laws.

Who Needs to Wear a Seat Belt

Washington state has specific seat belt and child restraint requirements based on age, height, and the type of restraint system used.

Here’s a breakdown of who needs to wear a seat belt or be secured with a child restraint system:

  • Vehicle Occupants 16 and Older Washington state law requires every person 16 years of age or older operating or riding in a motor vehicle to wear a properly adjusted and securely fastened safety belt.
  • Children Under Two Years of AgeSeat belt law in Washington also requires that children under two be properly secured in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the weight or height limit set by the seat manufacturer.
  • Children Ages Two to Four – Children ages two to four must ride in a car seat with a harness until they reach the weight or height limit set by the manufacturer.
  • Children Ages Four and Older – Children must ride in a car seat or booster seat until they are 4’9″ tall.
  • Children Over 4’9″ – Children over 4’9″ tall must be secured by a properly fitted seat belt, which typically starts between eight to 12 years of age.

Some additional requirements include:

  • According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, children up to age 13 in motor vehicles must ride in the back seat whenever practical.
  • The driver is responsible for ensuring that all child passengers under 16 are properly secured in a seat belt or child restraint system.
  • Every child restraint system must comply with U.S. Department of Transportation standards and be used according to the vehicle and child restraint manufacturer’s instructions.

For the best protection, it is recommended that a child remains in each stage of restraint until they reach the maximum height and weight specified by the manufacturer’s instructions.

Key Points to Consider

When it comes to seat belt laws in Washington, there are several essential points to keep in mind:

  • Officers Can Pull You Over Solely for Not Wearing a Seat Belt in Washington – Washington has a primary seat belt law. Not wearing a seat belt is a primary offense. This means law enforcement officers can pull you over and issue a citation for not wearing a seat belt, even if no other traffic violations have occurred.
  • The Fine for Violating Washington Seat Belt Laws Is Steep – The fine for violating seat belt laws in Washington is $124. However, the cost of not wearing a seat belt can be much higher for those involved in car crashes.
  • Failure to Wear a Seat Belt Does Not Constitute Negligence in Washington – Failure to wear a seat belt does not constitute negligence in a personal injury lawsuit. If you are injured in a car accident caused by another motorist, the at-fault driver cannot use the fact that you were not wearing a seat to argue that you were negligent and, therefore, don’t deserve compensation for your injuries. Your lack of a seat belt did not cause the car crash. The other driver did. A skilled Washington car accident attorney can help you pursue compensation from an at-fault driver, even if you were not wearing a seat belt.

The Importance of Proper Seat Belt Use

Wearing a seat belt is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and your passengers while on the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in one recent year.

When worn correctly, seat belts distribute the force of a crash, reducing the risk of severe injury or death. Proper seat belt use is crucial for ensuring the safety of all vehicle occupants, regardless of age or seating position.

Common Misconceptions About Seat Belts

Some people still hold misconceptions that prevent them from buckling up.

One common myth is that seat belts can trap you in a vehicle during an accident, making it difficult to escape if the vehicle catches fire or is submerged in water. However, this is highly unlikely. Modern seat belts are designed to be quickly released with the push of a button.

Another misconception is that seat belts are unnecessary for short trips or when driving at low speeds. In reality, a car wreck can happen at any time. Even a low-speed collision can result in severe injuries if the accident victims do not use their seat belts.

Seat Belt Safety Tips

It is essential to wear your seat belt correctly for maximum protection. Here are some tips to help ensure that you and your passengers are buckled in:

  • Start by adjusting the seat belt height so that the shoulder belt rests comfortably across your chest and shoulder, not your neck or face.
  • The lap belt should lie snugly across your hips, not your stomach.
  • Avoid wearing the shoulder belt under your arm or behind your back. This can cause serious injuries in the event of a crash.
  • If you’re pregnant, wear the lap belt below your belly and the shoulder belt between your breasts and to the side of your belly.
  • Always check that your seat belt is free from twists or knots, and make sure it clicks securely into the buckle.

Child Car Seat Installation and Use

Protecting children in vehicles requires appropriate car seats or booster seats. When installing a car seat, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and follow them. In general, you should:

  • Make sure the car seat is appropriate for your child’s age, height, and weight and fits properly in your vehicle. An improper seat belt does not provide the same protection.
  • For rear-facing car seats, the harness straps should be at or below the child’s shoulders, while they should be at or above the shoulders for forward-facing car seats.
  • The chest clip should be level with the child’s armpits. The harness should be snug enough that you cannot pinch any excess webbing at the shoulder.
  • When using a booster seat, make sure the lap belt lies across the child’s upper thighs and the shoulder belt crosses the chest and shoulder.

Encouraging Seat Belt Use Among Family and Friends

If you have family members or friends who are resistant to wearing seat belts, there are steps you can take to encourage them to make seat belt safety a priority.

  • Start by setting a good example and always wearing your seat belt, even for short trips.
  • When driving with others, make sure everyone in the vehicle is properly restrained before starting the engine.
  • If someone refuses to wear a seat belt, calmly explain the risks and potential consequences of improper seat belt use.
  • You can also share statistics and real-life stories to help illustrate the importance of seat belt use.
  • For parents, it’s essential to start good habits early by ensuring that children are always properly secured in car seats or booster seats and that they see adults consistently wearing their seat belts.

Making seat belt use a non-negotiable part of your family’s driving routine will prioritize safety and help instill lifelong habits that can help keep families safe on the road.

Get Legal Help from an Experienced Attorneys Near You

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in Yakima, WA, you should speak with an experienced Yakima car accident lawyer about your legal rights and whether a personal injury claim is in order.

Attorney Mariano Morales is a Yakima Valley native who has been fighting for the rights of car accident victims for more than 30 years. His roots in the community and passion for justice inspire him to provide compassionate, personalized legal representation to each and every client.

At Mariano Morales Law, we have a track record of success in handling complex personal injury claims. While every case stands on its own merits, our record reflects our extensive experience handling cases involving serious car accident injuries.

We understand that an auto accident can be overwhelming, especially if the car crash involves a serious injury. Our legal team handles everything from communicating with insurance adjusters to ensuring you receive the medical treatment you need. We provide regular case updates and are always available to answer your questions. We do not charge any legal fee unless we recover compensation for you.

With Mariano Morales Law, you can focus on your recovery while our legal team fights for the compensation you need for your medical bills, lost wages, and other accident-related expenses. Call us today at (509) 853-2222 or complete our online form for a free consultation with an auto accident lawyer. Experience the difference that personalized, experienced legal representation can make.