California Seat Belt Law (2024)

California has some of the strictest seat belt laws in the United States, and compliance among residents is exceptionally high. There’s clear evidence that seat belts save lives, which is why these laws are crucial. Given the extensive network of roads and highways in California—some of which see over 350,000 daily users—seat belt use is imperative for safety. The state’s seat belt usage rate is around 96%, which is significantly higher than the national average of 90%. In 2020, California recorded 3,723 traffic fatalities, with a significant portion occurring in urban areas. This figure represents roughly one-tenth of the nationwide total.

California Seat Belt Law Overview

California’s seat belt laws are strictly enforced to enhance safety and reduce fatalities, especially among children. Motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death for children between 1 and 12 years old. Ensuring that every baby is in an approved car safety seat from birth is critical. These seats are designed to be used for the first two years and can often be converted into booster seats for older children. Children under age 13 should always be secured in the rear seat with an appropriate safety device.

The comprehensive details of California’s seat belt laws are outlined in the California Vehicle Code, Section 27315, also known as the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The legislation was amended on January 1, 2012, to address specific needs for children’s safety. It applies to most motor vehicles, including passenger vehicles, trucks, truck tractors, and farm labor vehicles, but excludes motorcycles.

Frequently Asked Questions

General Terms

Who must wear seat belts?

  • Everyone in a motor vehicle must wear seat belts. This includes all passengers and the driver. Those aged 16 and older must wear approved seat belts, while special regulations apply to children under 16.

What type of seat belt must be used?

  • Seat belts must fit properly: the lap belt should cross the hips or upper thighs, and the shoulder belt should cross the chest. Using seat belts improperly, such as placing the shoulder belt behind the back or under the arm, is not safe.

Who is responsible for seat belt use?

  • While each passenger is responsible for wearing their seat belt, the driver must ensure that all passengers are belted.

Child Seat Belt Law

When do children need to wear seat belts?

  • Children under 8 years old and shorter than 4 feet 9 inches must be secured in an approved car seat or booster seat. This seat must be fastened securely to the vehicle seat. Generally, children under 8 cannot ride in the front seat unless certain conditions apply.

Are there special laws for infants and toddlers?

  • Yes, children under 2 years old must ride in a rear-facing car seat, with exceptions for children over 40 pounds or taller than 40 inches. The car seat must be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

May children ride in the front seat?

  • Children can ride in the front seat under specific conditions, such as when there is no rear seat, or the rear seats are side-facing or rear-facing, or if a child restraint system cannot be properly installed in the rear seat. Additionally, children can sit in the front if all rear seats are occupied by younger children or if there is a medical reason. In such cases, deactivating the front passenger airbag is advisable to prevent injury.

Adult Seat Belt Law

What age is considered adult for seat belt use?

  • Individuals aged 16 and older are considered adults and must wear seat belts. If the seat belt is too small, an extender must be used.

Who is responsible for seat belt use?

  • The driver is responsible for ensuring that all passengers are wearing seat belts and can be cited if passengers are not belted.

What about commercial vehicles carrying passengers?

  • Drivers of commercial vehicles like taxis, limos, and emergency vehicles cannot operate their vehicle if their front-seat passenger is not wearing a seat belt.

What if I cannot wear a seat belt due to disability?

  • Those unable to wear a seat belt due to a medical condition must carry a letter from their doctor to be exempt from this law.

What about people riding in the back of a pick-up truck?

  • It is illegal to carry passengers in the bed of a pick-up truck in California unless the truck has an enclosed camper with seat belts.


Who is exempt from this seat belt law?

  • Certain workers, such as USPS and newspaper delivery persons and waste collection personnel, are exempt while working. However, they must wear seat belts before and after their shifts. Taxi and limo drivers may have exemptions in city areas when carrying fare-paying passengers, but their passengers must be buckled up. Emergency personnel and some public employees are also exempt. People with medical disabilities must carry a doctor’s letter for exemption.


What are the fines for violating California’s seat belt laws?

  • Fines can be substantial, particularly for not securing a child. The penalties include:
    • First offense: $20
    • Subsequent offenses: $50
    • For some violations, fines start at $162 for adults and $465 for not properly restraining a child under 16. The driver receives the ticket, regardless of parental status.


California’s robust seat belt laws are designed to enhance road safety and reduce fatalities and injuries, especially among children. Compliance with these laws is critical, given the high volume of traffic on the state’s roads. With a seat belt usage rate significantly higher than the national average, California serves as a model for other states. Understanding and adhering to these laws is essential for the safety of all road users.