Seat Belt Law
If you are 18 or older, you don’t have to wear a seatbelt in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is the only state in the US where adults are not required to buckle up.
NH child seat laws
New Hampshire has a seatbelt law requiring those under 18 to wear a safety belt when driving or riding in a car. It also mandates that that passengers under age seven must be fastened by a child restraint system—such as a booster seat—with specific rules spelled out by the federal government. The provision doesn’t apply if the child is 57 inches tall or taller.
NH seat belt statistics
According to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), states with stronger seat belt laws generally have higher rates of usage than those with weaker or no laws. New Hampshire’s adult seat belt usage was actually the lowest in the U.S. in 2018, averaging 76.4%. The national average is 89.6%.
Additional New Hampshire seat belt use facts:
Female drivers are 10% more likely to wear seat belts than male drivers.
Pickup drivers are 20% less likely to wear a seat belt than SUV or van drivers.
Even in the absence of a seat belt law New Hampshire’s 2017 motor vehicle fatality rate was 7.6 per 100,000 people. That fatality rate is lower than the U.S. average of 11.4 per 100,000.
History of seat belt law in NH
Most recently, a bill to institute a seat belt law in New Hampshire was tabled in 2018.
Before that, the last serious attempt to institute a seat belt law in New Hampshire took place in 2009, when the House passed HB 383, sponsored by Rep. Sally Kelly. It was defeated in the Senate by a 16-8 vote.
The federal government strongly encourages states to pass primary or secondary seat belt laws but does not require it, citing statistics that show higher rates of fatalities among non-restrained drivers.
Seat belt laws in other states
The other 49 states either have primary or secondary seat belt laws.
A primary seat belt law means that law enforcement can stop motorists solely for not wearing a seat belt.
Secondary seat belt laws mean that drivers can only be ticketed for neglecting to use a seat belt after they have been stopped for another offense, such as a speeding violation.
NH should pass a mandatory seat belt law.
Though only 23.6% of NH motorists do not wear seat belts, 70% of NH traffic fatalities were unrestrained drivers or passengers.
Seat belt use by drivers or front seat passengers in cars has been said to reduce the risk of death by 45% and of serious injury by 50%.
Seat belt use has an even greater impact in light trucks and SUVs, decreasing the risk of injury by 65%.
A study by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration estimated that enacting a primary seat belt law in New Hampshire would result in $7.9 million in savings to state government, federal government and insurance companies, primarily in reduced medical expenses.
Research shows that traffic fatality rates decline in states that enact seat belt laws: an average of 21% in states with primary laws and 7% in states with secondary laws.
NH should not pass a mandatory seat belt law.
It is not the government’s job to legislate common sense. The choice to wear a seat belt should remain up to the individual.
Primary seat belt laws give law enforcement an excuse to stop motorists even if no other infraction has been committed, which could increase minority profiling.
Education, not a law, is the best way to increase seat belt usage. A law alone will not change the minds of those who do not currently buckle up.
Seat belt laws distract law enforcement from focusing their attention on more serious offenses, such as speeding or distracted driving.