One of my earliest childhood memories is of the weekly car rides to my grandparents’ house for Sunday dinner.

As my dad strapped me into my car seat, perhaps noticing a 4-year-old’s lack of enthusiasm for sports talk radio and 60 minutes of sitting still, he’d sing the “Buckle Up” song, eliciting a few giggles and a smile as we hit the road.

To this day, I still sing that song in my head every time I get in a car and fasten my seat belt.

But, because not everyone had a dad with McCartney-like pipes and a penchant for 1960s jingles to remind them to wear a seat belt, here are a few things to keep in mind each time you go for a ride.

Seat belts save lives

Putting on a seat belt is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep yourself and your family safe, decreasing the risk of fatality by 45 percent for drivers and front-seat passengers. Since becoming standard on all U.S.-manufactured vehicles in the late 1960s, seat belts are the best way to prevent death and injury in car accidents. In fact, they’ve helped keep approximately 255,000 people alive since 1975.


  • Seat belts save upwards of 14,000 lives annually … and $50 million in medical care.
  • In 2012, over half of the teens killed in auto accidents weren’t buckled in.

Seat belt laws vary by state

Although seat belts had been in cars for over a decade by the early 1980s, seat belt use hovered around a measly 14 percent. In an effort to increase use (and keep people alive), New York was the first state to pass legislation requiring seat belts for all vehicle passengers in 1984.

Since then, every state (with the exception of New Hampshire) has followed suit and the U.S. has seen seat belt use rise exponentially. In fact, a 2012 survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 85 percent of people buckled up.

But not all seat belt laws are created equal. Seat belt legislation for adults is split into primary and secondary laws.

Primary laws: In states with primary seat belt laws, police are allowed to pull over and ticket drivers if either they or other front-seat passengers are not wearing seat belts. States with primary seat belt laws for adults riding in the front seat include:

Alabama Alaska Arkansas
California Connecticut Delaware
Washington D.C. Florida Georgia
Hawaii Illinois Indiana
Iowa Kansas Kentucky
Louisiana Maine Maryland
Michigan Minnesota Mississippi
New Jersey New Mexico New York
North Carolina Oklahoma Oregon
Rhode Island South Carolina Tennessee
Texas Washington West Virginia

Secondary laws: Drivers in states with secondary seat belt laws can’t be pulled over for driving unbuckled. Officers in these states can issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only if an additional traffic law has been broken. States with secondary seat belt laws for adults riding in the front seat include:

Arizona Colorado Idaho
Massachusetts Missouri Montana
Nebraska Nevada North Dakota
Ohio Pennsylvania South Dakota
Utah Vermont Virginia

Additionally, laws differ for people in the back seat, and, in some cases, can vary based on age and weight.

Regardless of which rules your state follows, seat belt laws make a positive difference. States with primary laws have 88 percent seat belt use, while secondary enforcement states report 75 percent use.

Laws can differ greatly from state to state, so brush up on your state’s rules frequently. If you’re riding with children, make sure you’re familiar with child passenger safety laws.

How much do seat belt tickets cost?

Breaking seat belt laws can result in more than just a citation. While some states start small with a $10 or $20 fine, others can charge as much as $200 for a first-time infraction (looking at you, Texas).

If the first-time ticket doesn’t inspire you to buckle up, a second offense may cost even more. If an adult is caught unbelted in California, for example, the first time will cost them about $20. But after that, the ticket jumps to $50. And while $50 may not sound like a ton of cash, it can add up quickly, especially for repeat offenders.

Lead by example

Whether you’re riding with kids or other adult passengers, be sure to set an example by always putting on your seat belt. Although the U.S. has seen a rise in seat belt use, 1 in 7 people still don’t buckle up when they get into a vehicle. By taking a few seconds to fasten your seat belt, you’ll be better protected in the event of an accident and you’ll keep your wallet safe from seat belt infraction fines.

Another good way to protect yourself (and keep cash in your pocket)? By having quality, reliable car insurance from Esurance. Get your free quote today to see how much you could save.

Safe and smart | Getting there


about Jennifer

A Motor City native, Jennie spent a few years knee-deep in automotive before heading to San Francisco to join the Esurance team as a copywriter. In addition to words, she’s a big fan of running, Detroit Tiger baseball, and the Trader Joe’s cheese aisle.