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Which US States Do Not Require Seatbelts?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: May 17, 2024

There is significant evidence that wearing a seatbelt dramatically reduces the risk of fatality in car crashes. Since 1985, all U.S. states have mandated the use of infant seats and car seats for young children. Nearly all U.S. states have legislation pertaining to adults, but the specific enforcement of these laws varies among states. In some states, an adult not wearing a seatbelt is a primary offense, while in others it is a secondary offense.

New Hampshire is the only state that does not require adults to wear seat belts in a motor vehicle. On a related note, there are three states that do not require motorcycle helmets: New Hampshire, Illinois and Iowa.

For some, it may be difficult to understand the arguments of states without seatbelt laws. Essentially, the argument of such states comes down not to a dispute as to whether it’s safer to use seatbelts, but instead the reasoning tends to hinge on the concept of free choice. Some citizens are concerned that requiring seatbelts infringes on personal freedom and that the states that do not require seatbelts are merely asserting the rights of individual citizens to make their own choices. Those who argue against requiring seatbelts may say that sometimes personal responsibility has to be legislated in order to protect citizens.

Statistics show that the fatality rates in car accidents are highest on rural roads in the states that don't make drivers and passengers to wear their seatbelts. In contrast, accident fatality rates are lower in states that require strapping oneself in with a seatbelt. Still, many people ignore seatbelt laws, potentially making enforcement of seatbelt laws difficult to enforce.

Supporters of seatbelt laws may be concerned not only with seatbelt laws affecting passenger cars but school buses and public transportation as well. Policies affecting these modes of transportation is changing in many states which are moving towards the requirement that new buses feature seatbelts and that student passengers buckle up. For some parents, this change isn't occurring fast enough. Hesitation on the issue may be less about personal freedom and more about simple economics — installing seat belts on buses can be costly. Many parents counter, however, that there is no expense too great where the lives of children are concerned.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon952209 — On May 20, 2014

Infants and kids ages 18 and under should have to wear seat belts, but those 18 and up should make their own choice. It's about money, not safety. Free country, yeah right.

By anon930001 — On Feb 03, 2014

How many people die in accidents within states because they don't wear seatbelts, compared the deaths rates in a state which require seatbelts?

By anon261391 — On Apr 15, 2012

Delaware requires you have the helmet on your motorcycle, but not on you.

By anon230671 — On Nov 20, 2011

Kentucky requires seat belts, and Illinois requires motorcycle helmets.

By anon193107 — On Jul 03, 2011

*Insert Big Brother government here as thick as honey and not as sweet tasting.*

Enjoy the modern world where the government makes choices for you, making you think you don't have to be responsible for yourself like the "1984" book.

Remember people: If you have a personal safety problem, always blame the government and get them to pass new laws. New laws are always the answer.

Do not, I repeat, do not make citizens responsible for their own safety flaws as that will cause people to think for themselves and vote how they want, not what your as a government body wants.

*Insert post drooling thick with sarcasm here.*

By anon168162 — On Apr 15, 2011

The reason for such prevalent seat belt "laws" (statutes) is not safety, it's money. The money is for states while protecting private interests (auto insurance industry). It's no simpler than that as government does not exist to protect you from your own choices.

By anon97353 — On Jul 19, 2010

SD has a secondary seatbelt law for the front seat.

By anon88540 — On Jun 05, 2010

Maine and Mass require seatbelts.

By anon86998 — On May 27, 2010

Seat belts should be mandatory on motorcycles. That way all the blood and guts would congregate in one area instead of all over the neighborhood. Car fatalities are a good example because the dead person usually is already coffinized.

By anon79456 — On Apr 22, 2010

Well, I live in New Hampshire and I know you do not have to wear a helmet on a motorcycle. Second, Mass does have a seat belt law. Site should do its homework.

By anon53333 — On Nov 20, 2009

What about good ole Texas. 200.00 front or back. They'll screw you either way. lol

By anon17592 — On Sep 02, 2008

I know Kentucky has laws that make not using seatbelts a primary offense.

By malena — On Feb 02, 2008

I was surprised when I first heard about this. I knew seat belts were not required in some countries, but somehow I had assumed that seatbelt laws were national -- governed by federal, not state law. Turns out it's governed by individual states and as a result those states that do require people to buckle have different seat belt laws. For example, some states apply their seatbelt laws to riders as young as 6 years old where other state seatbelt laws don't kick in until a rider or driver is at least 18 years old. Another difference is that some states apply their laws to drivers only or both drivers and riders. Some states have primary seatbelt laws which means that law enforcement can ticket drivers and passengers just for not wearing a seat belt, while other states have secondary seat belt laws, which means that the police may ticket for seat belt violations only after stopping the car for violating another traffic infraction. Finally, states differ in the area of how much they fine for violations. The state of Washington seems to be the most strict allowing up to a $124 fine for first time offenders -- perhaps not such a shock since Washington is a pretty liberal state!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
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