Seat Belt Law

Citizens Count Editor

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.  

Nseat 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. 

Federal laws 

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.  


"For" Position

By Citizens Count Editor

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. 

"Against" Position

By Citizens Count Editor

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. 


Tabled in the Senate

Requires children under the age of 2 years old to be restrained in a rear facing child restraint in a motor vehicle.

Tabled in the Senate

Requires that any person operating or riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle wear a seat belt. There are some exceptions, for example when riding in a taxi. The bill also requires all school buses manufactured on or after June 30, 2020 and used in New Hampshire to have seat belts. The House amended the bill to remove the part about school buses.

Tabled in the Senate

Requires that any person operating or riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle wear a seat belt. There are some exceptions, for example when riding in a taxi. This bill only allows law enforcement to write a ticket for not wearing a seat belt if they first pull over the driver for a different traffic offense.

Tabled in the House

Requires seat belt usage.

Signed by Governor

Establishes a committee to study seat belts on school buses.

Signed by Governor

Establishes a committee to study helmet and restraint laws for youth operators and passengers of OHRVs and snowmobiles.

Tabled in the Senate

Requires seat belt usage.

Should NH require seat belts?


Christine Altan
- Hampton

Fri, 12/21/2018 - 12:56pm

Growing up on military bases, it was ingrained into my head that any time I got into a moving vehicle I must immediately buckle up. Why someone wouldn't automatically use this safety feature to prevent becoming a human projectile and receiving serious injuries and possibly death is unfathomable to me. I'm surprised that NH is the only state that doesn't require drivers and passengers over 18 to wear a seat belt. It's interesting to also read that in a survey conducted, a whopping 88% were opposed to adults being required to wear seat belts. It just seems like common sense to buckle up. Here are the surprising results of that survey:

Daniel Perrinez
- Manchester

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 12:02pm

We have a law banning cell phones and there is zero effort even trying to enforce that.
Cell-phone use while driving results in distracted drivers injuring and killing many many other people.

Wearing a seat belt is my choice for my safety. It is irrelevant to the safety of others.


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Issue Status

This year, legislators will debate changing NH law to require adults to wear seat belts. Check the list of bills on this page for updates, then contact your elected officials to share your thoughts.


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