What Are the Seat Belt Laws in Massachusetts?
“Seat belts save lives” is a phrase we’re all familiar with. Wearing a seat belt is a small preventive measure that can make a big difference if you are involved in an auto accident. But do you have to wear one in Massachusetts?
It’s against the law to drive without wearing a seat belt in Massachusetts. Drivers who are pulled over while they or their passengers are not wearing a seat belt are subject to a $25 fine in addition to any fines imposed for other violations. However, injured victims can still file an insurance claim or lawsuit against a negligent driver for compensatory damages. That being said, it can be harder for victims to recover the damages they deserve if they did not have on a seat belt during an accident. That’s why hiring an experienced attorney is crucial for Massachusetts victims.
If you were hurt because of someone’s negligence or have questions about how the current Massachusetts seat belt laws may apply to you, call Wakefield personal injury lawyer John J. Sheehan today at (617) 925-6407.
Who Has to Wear a Seat Belt in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts is very clear about who has to wear a seat belt and when. Generally, all passengers and drivers are required to wear seat belts any time a car is in motion. These laws are for your safety and the safety of everyone on the road. After all, if you’re not wearing a seat belt and are hit by a negligent driver, you could sustain very serious injuries.
All adult passengers in a car need to wear a seat belt at all times. This rules also apply to child passengers in Massachusetts. Any child under the age of 7 must be restrained in a government-approved child safety restraint (car seat/convertible seat/booster seat), and children ages 8-12 may be graduated to adult safety belt use depending on their height and size.
Seat belts are particularly important for young children as they reside in the back seat, away from airbags and other possible features that are deemed safe for adult use but not children. Because children are smaller and more vulnerable to injury than adults, it is crucial that they are properly restrained when riding in a car. That being said, it’s also important for adults’ safety to wear a seat belt, whether they are sitting in the front or back of a car.
All Massachusetts drivers are required to wear a seat belt. That means that you must wear a seat belt any time you’re driving your car. This precaution is for your safety. While drivers do have access to additional protective measures when sitting in the front seat, like airbags, seat belts provide an added layer of protection in case of a damaging car accident.
Can I Get Pulled Over for Not Wearing a Seat Belt in Massachusetts?
Although it’s against the law in Massachusetts to drive without a seat belt, you may wonder whether or not you can get pulled over for failing to buckle up. Because not wearing a seat belt is considered a secondary offense in terms of traffic violations, police officers can’t pull you over for failing to abide by Massachusetts’ seat belt laws.
As it stands right now, the law says you cannot get pulled over for failing to wear a seat belt in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Seat belt use is considered a secondary offense, meaning an officer must have a reason, other than a driver or passenger not wearing a seat belt, to pull the driver over.
The majority of states categorize seat belt use as a primary offense, meaning an officer can pull over a car simply because someone inside is not wearing a seat belt. Massachusetts is one of 16 states that does not share this requirement, though modified legislation is pending.
So, you don’t have to worry about getting pulled over for not wearing a seat belt in Massachusetts. However, if a Massachusetts police officer notices that you’ve committed a primary traffic violation, like speeding, they can pull you over and then impose a penalty if you are wearing a seat belt.
Can I Get Fined for Not Wearing a Seat Belt in Massachusetts?
Because seat belts are so crucial for drivers’ and passengers’ safety, you can get fined for failing to wear one in Massachusetts. While these fines are not necessarily costly, Massachusetts police officers are likely to issue them, even if you’ve been injured in a car accident.
In Massachusetts, drivers who are stopped by law enforcement officials and found to be not wearing a seat belt can be fined $25. Drivers can also be punished if their passengers fail to comply with seat belt regulations, making it largely up to the driver to enforce seat belt rules on minor children. A driver can be fined $25 for each passenger ages 12-15 not in compliance with the seat belt laws. Any passenger over the age of 16 not wearing a seat belt will be fined themselves. Therefore, the best policy is to make sure you, as a driver, buckle up, and also ensure that your passengers are buckled up, especially if they are under the age of 16.
If you were injured in a car accident in Massachusetts, and local law enforcement officials noticed that you were not wearing your seat belt, you can be fined as well. That may surprise Massachusetts car accident victims, but it is the reality. To avoid fines for failure to wear a seat belt after a damaging car accident, be sure to buckle up before you hit the road. If you are injured in a car accident while not wearing a seat belt, reach out to a Boston car accident lawyer right away.
New Seat Belt Legislation Currently Pending in Massachusetts
In April of 2021, Governor Charlie Baker reintroduced a bill to state policymakers targeting an overhaul of traffic safety provisions. Key amongst the items in the bill is the elevation of a person’s failure to wear a seat belt from a secondary offense to a primary offense.
While the potential elevation in offense may result in stiffer fines than the previous $25, the real goal of the legislation is in how the law is enforced. Practically, elevating the violation to a primary offense means that police officers would be able to pull drivers over specifically for not wearing a seat belt. Previously, fines for the failure to wear a seat belt could only be issued if the driver was pulled over for a separate suspected violation. If the new legislation were to pass, these penalties would likely see a substantial increase in quantity.
Massachusetts certainly has a seat belt usage problem. According to Jeff Larason, director of the state’s Highway Safety Division, Massachusetts ranks 46th out of the 50 states in terms of rate of seat belt usage. “Over half of the people who are killed on our roads in Massachusetts are unbelted,” said Larason, “and these are entirely preventable tragedies.” Larason estimates that universal seat belting would result in an additional 45 lives saved on Massachusetts roadways each year.
Most of the concerns about the proposed changes are rooted in worries about subjective levels of enforcement that affect civil liberties, particularly in regard to minorities. In response to the bill’s introduction, Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU in Massachusetts, pointed to research, suggesting that, “Black and Brown drivers are already significantly more likely to be stopped by police and have their vehicle searched, but less likely to be issued a citation.” Governor Baker has acknowledged these concerns in his advocacy for the bill and has indicated an openness to addressing them further if the bill were to pass.
As of now, the legislation is pending concurrence. This means that the old rule still applies, leaving violations for failure to wear a seat belt as secondary offenses.
Can I File an Insurance Claim if I Was Not Wearing a Seat Belt During a Massachusetts Car Accident?
After a damaging car accident in Massachusetts, injured victims may choose to file a claim against a negligent driver’s liability insurance. But what if you were not wearing a seat belt at the time? Will that bar you from filing an insurance claim in Massachusetts?
Failing to buckle up won’t prohibit you from filing a claim against a negligent driver’s liability insurance after a Massachusetts car accident. That being said, an insurance company may cite your failure to wear a seat belt as a contributory factor to your injuries.
Negotiating with a Massachusetts insurance company is always a challenge, especially when a victim did not have a seat belt on during an accident. If you want to explore filing an insurance claim, it’s important that you hire a skilled Cambridge car accident lawyer. Your attorney can navigate these difficult discussions and help you file a successful insurance claim.
Can You Sue for Car Accident Injuries in Massachusetts if You Were Not Wearing a Seat Belt?
If another driver’s negligence or recklessness caused an accident that resulted in injury to another driver or passenger, the injured victim has the ability to file a personal injury lawsuit in Massachusetts. That’s often true, even if an injured victim was not wearing a seat belt during a Massachusetts car accident.
Massachusetts is a comparative negligence state, meaning that victims can still sue a negligent driver even if they did not have a seat belt on at the time of the accident. Our Malden car accident lawyers will aim to show that, while you may share fault for the extent of your injuries, you did nothing to contribute to the accident itself.
That being said, if a plaintiff was also partially negligent and the court determines that the plaintiff’s negligence was mostly responsible for the injuries, the plaintiff will be barred from recovery.
As long as you did not cause the accident itself, you can likely still sue a negligent Massachusetts driver after a collision. However, if you were not wearing a seat belt when the collision happened, it’s incredibly important that you hire an experienced Massachusetts car accident lawyer. Navigating lawsuits where a defendant and plaintiff share fault can be challenging and often require the experience and resources of a dedicated attorney.
Proving Fault in Massachusetts Lawsuits When Victims Did Not Wear Seat Belts
In order for Massachusetts’ comparative negligence laws to not impede your ability to recover compensatory damages in a lawsuit against a negligent driver, your attorney must prove a negligent driver’s fault. For this to happen, it’s important that injured victims hire a skilled Massachusetts car accident lawyer, especially if they were not buckled up during a collision.
Proving the proportion of comparative negligence in a car accident injury case in Massachusetts can be difficult. Much of your case will hinge on your ability to introduce qualified medical experts to testify that you likely would have sustained your injuries whether or not you were wearing a seat belt.
Our hardworking Somerville car accident lawyers will help you find the expert testimony necessary for your case. We can also help you estimate the value of your case so that you know what to reasonably expect from pursuing your case further.
Recovering Damages for Victims Who Did Not Wear a Seat Belt During a Massachusetts Car Accident
Although you can likely still file a lawsuit against a negligent driver even if you were not wearing a seat belt in Massachusetts, recovering damages for your injuries can be difficult. This can be an uphill battle for victims, so it’s wise to hire an experienced Massachusetts personal injury lawyer so that you can recover the compensatory damages you deserve.
In short, yes, you may be able recover damages for your injuries in a lawsuit, even if you weren’t wearing a seat belt. However, if you are able to recover damages, the amount of your recovery may be reduced proportionally to your level of contributory negligence.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts uses the “51 Percent” comparative negligence theory for personal injury cases. This means that the defendant must be more than 50% responsible for the harms that the plaintiff suffered in order for the plaintiff to recover. This also makes it even more important for victims to hire a skilled Massachusetts car accident lawyer.
If the court finds that the plaintiff was also negligent but that the defendant was still mostly responsible, the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced according to the proportion of fault. For instance, if the plaintiff claims $10,000 in damages from their injury but was found to be 20% responsible for their injuries because of their own negligence, the court will limit the plaintiff’s recovery to $8,000, or 80% of the total damages. Failure to wear a seat belt can also impact the damages a Massachusetts victim can recover from a negligent driver’s insurance.
If comparative negligence laws threaten to reduce your potential damages in a lawsuit, turn to an experienced Massachusetts car accident lawyer. Your attorney can help you recover substantial damages, even if comparative negligence laws are at play.
That being said, not all car accident injuries are worsened because an injured party did not have a seat belt on at the time of a crash. While Massachusetts’ comparative negligence laws are often a factor in such lawsuits, they do not impact the damages that every injured victim can recover.
Need Help Understanding Massachusetts Seat Belt Laws? Call Us Today
If you sustained injuries in a car accident that a seat belt would not have prevented, our experienced attorneys may be able to help. For a free case evaluation with the Boston personal injury lawyers at the Law Office of John J. Sheehan, call us at (617) 925-6407.