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Ohio’s Safety Belt Law

Ohio’s safety belt law was enacted in March 1986 and revised in November 1992. The law requires front-seat passengers of cars, vans, pickup and delivery trucks, taxicabs, commercial trucks and tractor-trailers, and buses with safety belts installed to wear them when these vehicles are driven on public roadways. For drivers under 18, the law requires you and all vehicle occupants to wear safety belts.

Drivers who violate the law are fined $30, while front-seat passengers are fined $20. Exempt from compliance are children already covered by the child safety restraint law; persons with medically-certified physical impairments; persons operating vehicles to deliver the mail or newspapers for home delivery; and persons in vehicles manufactured prior to 1966. Persons in vehicles equipped with air bags are not exempt from this law.

Law enforcement officials are prohibited from stopping a vehicle solely to enforce Ohio’s safety belt law. Citations can only be issued as a secondary action to another suspected offense. A violation of this law does not result in the assessment of points to an individual’s driving record.

Evidence regarding the proper use of safety belts is admissible against certain parties in a claim for damages for the injury or death of the occupant of the vehicle.

Ohio safety belt usage rates

  • The usage rate was 43.5% in 1986
  • In 2005, the usage rate was 78.7%, higher than 2004’s 74.1% rate
  • Usage rates for drivers (79.3%) are higher than those of passengers (76.7%)
  • Female occupants have higher usage rates (81.9%) than male occupants (75.8%)
  • Usage rates for pickup trucks (72.5%) are much lower than those of passenger cars (79.3%).

Note: For passenger cars, minivans and SUVs. Pickups included in usage rates beginning in 1998.

Source: Ohio Department of Public Safety

US safety belt usage rates

The US safety belt usage rate reached an all-time high of 80% in June 2004. The National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) is conducted annually by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis in NHTSA. Other key findings included:

  • 80% was a slight improvement from 2003’s 79%, but observations indicated increases in belt use on expressways and in suburban areas.
  • Belt use is lower in secondary-enforcement belt law states than those in primary-enforcement.
  • Belt use is lower in rural areas than in urban/suburban areas.

Mandatory safety belt use is law in 49 states and the District of Columbia – New Hampshire is the sole state without a mandatory law. Laws in most states apply only to front-seat occupants, although 17 states and DC also cover all rear-seat occupants. The safety belt defense is permitted in 14 states – including Ohio – meaning damages collected by someone in a crash may be reduced for failure to use a safety belt at the time of the crash.

For a list of states and their belt use laws, visit the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) at

NHTSA published “Safety Belt Use in 2004 – Overall Results” in September 2004. The summary is available online at

(no figures provided for 1995 and 1997)
Source: National Occupant Protection Use Survey, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, NHTSA

The move for primary enforcement

Over the years, legislation continues to be introduced that would mandate the failure to wear seat belts a primary traffic offense in Ohio. Belt use laws in 22 states and DC are primary enforcement laws, meaning law enforcement can stop vehicles solely for belt law violations.

A January 2005 IIHS study found that when states strengthen their safety belts laws from secondary- to primary-enforcement, driver death rates decline by an estimated 7%. The study was a first to evaluate the effect on traffic deaths of shifting from secondary- to primary-enforcement. IIHS study information is summarized at

In 2002, the Ohio Highway Patrol launched an education campaign called "What’s Holding You Back?" Since then, the number of seatbelt citations has fallen about 19%. In 2003 troopers wrote 188,464 seat-belt tickets, compared with 234,506 in 2002. In 2001 — before the campaign — 202,411 were issued.
(Columbus Dispatch, 7/2/04)




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