Fastening your seat belt is one of the few actions you can take to prevent serious injury in a car crash. Not wearing a seat belt can result in fines as low as ten dollars in some states (Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) to as high as $250 in Oregon. Seat belt use is enforced as either a primary offense where it can be the sole reason for a traffic stop or as a secondary offense where the fine can only be issued if the driver was committing a separate violation. While almost every state requires either the front seat passengers or all passengers to wear a seat belt, New Hampshire is the only state that does not require passengers 18 and older to wear a seat belt.
Is there a benefit to not having this seat belt? Opponents of mandatory seat belt laws argue that use of seat belts should be an individual’s personal choice. However, it is difficult to argue against the safety benefits provided by using a seat belt. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that New Hampshire had the lowest reported seat belt use at 69.5% in 2015.
In the rest of the United States, when specific states enacted seat belt laws those states saw increased seat belt use, which lead to less preventable roadway fatalities. Since every other state in the U.S. had enacted seat belt legislation by the mid-90s it is an oddity that New Hampshire still has no seat belt law for adults. New Hampshire is one of the few states to issue license suspensions for reckless driving (60 days) and has almost the highest automatic suspension of a license for a DUI (2 years) but has not seen a need to enact seat belt legislation.
As reported by the NHTSA, “Jurisdictions with stronger seat belt enforcement laws continue to exhibit generally higher use rates than those with weaker laws.” Stronger enforcement, such as primary over secondary enforcement, has a larger impact on seat belt usage rates than stiffer punishments. As an example, California has small fine of twenty-five dollars for non-use but had the highest rate of seat belt use in 2015, 97.3%.
Although fines in most states are typically very small when compared to driving under the influence and other more serious moving violations, a fine is the least of your worries in a car accident. With the possibility of other drivers driving drunk or recklessly why take a chance on your only means of protecting yourself in an unavoidable crash? In New York under Article 33 Section 1229-c non-use of a seat belt can lead to reduced damages being paid when injured in a car crash. While New Hampshire does not have a similar law it is safe to say your odds of survival are better with it on. In 2014 New Hampshire had the highest percent of unrestrained roadway fatalities (not wearing a seat belt) at 78%.
Seat belt legislature was enacted to ensure our safety. Personal choice shapes many of our laws, and in New Hampshire you have the option not to use a seat belt. Just remember to buckle up on your way out of the state.