What is the Florida Seat Belt Law and Seat Belt Defense?

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Introduction

In this article you will learn everything you need to know about Florida’s seat belt law and child-restraint law. You’ll learn why it’s so important to wear a seat belt in Florida whenever you’re on the roads, both for safety and for legal reasons. We’ll tell you some of the facts about how seat belts save lives and reduce the severity of injuries.

Then we’ll go into detail about Florida’s seat belt law requirements. We’ll give you all you need to know to comply with Florida’s law. This includes who must wear a seat belt in various types of vehicles and situations. We’ll also explain the requirements for children, including the child safety restraint law for children 5 years old and younger.

Then you’ll learn about the penalties for failing to wear a seat belt or have your child in the proper safety seat. This includes when a police officer can cite you for these violations of the law.

Finally, as a Gainesville car accident lawyer, we’ll teach you about how wearing a seat belt affects your personal injury claim for your car accident. Florida law on this subject is called “comparative negligence.” Along with Florida’s No Fault Law, Florida pedestrian laws, Florida right of way laws, and Florida car accident laws, Florida’s seat belt laws can affect your financial recovery for your accident.

Why you should always wear your seat belt

Wearing a seat belt is one of the most important things you can do to be safer when travelling by automobile. There is a clear connection between not wearing a seat belt and being killed in a traffic accident. For instance, in a 2017 study, there were 37,133 people killed in motor vehicles crashes in the U.S. Of that total, 47% were not wearing a seat belt. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that seat belts saved 14,955 lives in 2017 and that an additional 2,549 lives could have been saved if they had been wearing a seat belt. The good news is that 91% of people in automobiles are wearing seat belts in 2019. Make sure you’re one of them!

Wearing a seat belt is so important when you travel in a car or truck. In fact, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death by 45% and the risk of serious injury by 50%. One reason seat belts are so effective in the most serious types of car accidents is that they keep you from being ejected from the vehicle. Over 75% of people ejected from a vehicle during a crash die. Seat belts keep this from happening in most cases. But seat belts don’t just help in these extreme kinds of accidents. Seat belts also help to minimize your injuries in lower speed collisions.

Aside from being a safe driver and following the rules of the road, wearing a seat belt is the most important thing you can do to be safe. You can’t control what other drivers are doing around you. Driving safely can help you avoid collisions, but sometimes a bad driver will still cause you harm. By wearing a seat belt, you are as protected as possible from that harm.

And in Florida, there is a seat belt law, that requires you to wear one. Everyone riding in an automobile in Florida must wear a seat belt, with a few exceptions. Failure to wear a seat belt in Florida can result in some bad consequences in addition to the increased risk of injury, these are:

  • Points to your license
  • Fines
  • Adversely affect your personal injury claim

So, with all these reasons for wearing a seat belt, we highly recommend you buckle up every time you ride in a car or truck. It’s the law.

What the Florida seat belt law says

A Florida law passed in 2009 made wearing a seat belt a requirement (Florida Statutes 316.614). Not wearing a seat belt is now a primary traffic offense. That means a police officer can stop a car and issue a citation if the driver or passengers are not wearing seat belts. The driver can be cited under the Florida seat belt law for any passenger under 18 who isn’t wearing a seat belt or in the proper child safety seat. Passengers over 18 will be cited directly for failure to wear a seat belt.

One exception to the seat belt rule is passengers over 18 years old who are not in the front seat. They are not required to wear a seat belt. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea! All passengers should be wearing seat belts for their own safety. And passengers who are under 18 years old must wear a seat belt or be in the proper child seat, even if they’re in the back seats of the vehicle.

What Florida’s Child Restraint Law says

Florida seat belt law 316.613 contains the specific requirements for child car seats. In general, all children up to 5 years old must be in federally approved car seats. Those are seats that have been crash-tested and proven. The requirements for what kind of seat is necessary vary depending on how old the child is.

Children 3 years old or younger must be seated in a separate carrier seat or a vehicle manufacturer’s integrated child seat.

Children 4 or 5 years old must be in a separate carrier seat, an integrated seat, or a booster seat.

Parents and drivers are responsible for making sure young children are in the required seats. If you do not use the proper seat for a child in your car you can be issued a traffic citation, including a fine and 3 points on your license.

There are a few exceptions to the Florida car seat law. The main one to know is that if you are transporting someone else’s child as a favor, and the child is 4 or 5 years old, the booster seat is not required. In that case, the child only must have a seat belt on. But the exception doesn’t apply to your own child.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Florida child seat laws aren’t the same as the safest option. In fact, recommendations from The National Highway Traffic Association (NHTSA) are stronger than Florida’s laws. The NHTSA recommends child seat usage based on the child’s size as well as age. The NHTSA recommends full car seats to age 4 rather than 3 in Florida. It also recommends booster seats to age 8-12, rather than just 5 like in Florida. You can follow NHTSA’s recommendations to keep your child even safer than Florida law requires.

Florida car seat laws don’t consider the height and weight of the child, just the age. For that reason, if you only follow Florida’s law, your child might not be in the seat that is most appropriate. It is better to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for height and weight for the federally approved child restraint seat that you choose. That way, you’ll comply with Florida’s law and have your child in the most appropriate type of seat. Florida law also doesn’t say anything about rear or forward-facing seats. Again, follow the guidelines for the federally approved seat that you choose to use.

Finally, you might wonder if the child restraint law affects your car accident case. Florida law says that evidence of whether a child was in a car seat at the time of the accident is not admissible at trial. That means that even if your child was not in the required seat, the jury will not be able to hear about this in determining comparative negligence.

What are the Florida Seat Belt Law Fines?

The Florida seat belt law passed in 2009 makes not wearing a seat belt a primary traffic violation. A primary violation is an offense that a police officer can pull you over for. So, if you’re driving without a seat belt and a policeman sees it, he can pull you over. A secondary traffic offense is an offense that you can’t be pulled over for, but that you can be cited for if you are already pulled over for another, primary offense.

The Florida state fine for not wearing a seat belt is currently $35. Counties and courts may also apply additional fines. Remember, the driver will be held responsible for all passengers under 18 years old who are wearing a seat belt or in the required child safety seat. That means the driver will have to pay their fine. In addition to the fine, you’ll also receive 3 points on your license for a seat belt violation. You may be able to elect to take driver safety school to avoid the points.

If you violate the child safety seat law, the fine is higher, $60 per violation. It will also add 3 points to your license. Again, a court may waive the points and instead send you to a child safety restraint course.

Exceptions to Seat Belt Law in Florida

There are several exceptions to the Florida seat belt law. These are situations where the driver and passengers are not required to wear a seat belt. These exceptions are:

  • Commercial buses
  • Heavy trucks over 26,000 pounds
  • Tractors
  • Newspaper delivery people
  • Persons with certified medical conditions that make seat belt use dangerous or inappropriate
  • Garbage and recycling trucks
  • Postal deliveries
  • Passengers in living quarters of an RV
  • Motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles

School buses used to be an exception to the seat belt law. However, now the law states that school buses purchase after the year 2000 must be equipped with passenger seat belts. If your child is on a school bus with seat belts, they should be used.

What happens to my accident claim if I was not wearing my seat belt?

Your accident claim can be weakened if you weren’t wearing a seat belt. Florida allows for a “Seat Belt Defense” argument. The defendant would argue that your injuries were caused or made worse by your failure to wear a seat belt. They will be able to introduce evidence into the court that you or your passengers were not wearing a seat belt. They will do this to argue that you were partially or fully responsible for your injuries or your passengers’ injuries. One exception to this rule of evidence is the car seat law. The defense may not be able to show evidence that your child wasn’t in a car seat. This is a rule that has been appealed so could be changed in the future.

Florida is a comparative fault state. That means that the jury is called on to determine the percentage of fault of all parties involved in your car accident. The seat belt defense is one factor that can affect the determination of comparative fault. The defense will try to argue that you have a high percentage of fault for your injuries because you weren’t wearing a seat belt. If they succeed in proving this to the jury, you will get a smaller verdict. Even if your case doesn’t go to trial, the insurance company will use the same argument to offer you a lower settlement.

Here's an example of how this can play out in real life. Say you were stopped at a red light when a car struck you from behind. You weren’t wearing a seat belt. You were thrown against the steering wheel and suffered a broken nose and whiplash. Usually, in a rear-end collision, the driver who struck you would be held 100% responsible for your injuries. The difficulty of a case like that is mainly in getting them to pay full value for your injuries and pain and suffering. But in this case, since you weren’t wearing a seat belt, the defense will also argue that you were partially at fault. They will say that if you had been wearing a seat belt your injuries would be much less severe. Maybe you wouldn’t have hit the steering wheel and broken your nose. The case will be more difficult as your car accident lawyer will have to prove that your injuries would have been just as bad or even worse if you had been wearing a seat belt. This is hard, since most studies show that seat belts reduce injuries in car accidents. You still should receive compensation, but it might not be as much as if you had been wearing a seat belt.

"Eric Kem was a Fantastic Lawyer...knowledgeable, patient as well as kind. He helped me understand the law, know my rights and not feel like an idiot for asking so many questions. I had a better outcome then I ever expected. I would highly recommend him!!!"

Crystal DeJesus, Gainesville Florida

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