New Hampshire is the only state out of 15 that does not require their residents to wear a seatbelt.

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In Brief:

  • NH is the only state in the US without a primary or secondary law requiring adult motorists to wear seat belts.
  • Proponents of a mandatory seat belt law argue that it would save lives, reduce injuries, and save the state, the federal government, and insurance companies millions of dollars.
  • Opponents counter that the choice to wear a seat belt should remain up to the individual, and point out that even without a mandate, NH traffic fatality rates have been steadily declining.

No legislative action on this issue has been taken since 2009, when a bill requiring adult seat belt use passed the House but was defeated in the Senate.

History in NH

The last attempt to institute a seat belt law in NH 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 bill called for a primary safety belt enforcement law, which would have required law enforcement to stop any adult seen driving without a safety belt.
  • The proposed fines were $50 for a first offense and $100 for second or subsequent offenses.
  • The bill applied to all vehicles except large school buses, cars manufactured before 1968 and vehicles that make frequent stops for business purposes.

Seat Belt Usage in NH

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. NH seat belt use statistics bear this observation out. An average of 73% of NH motorists buckle up, as opposed to the US average of 87%.

Additional NH 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, NH’s traffic fatality rate has been declining overall, from 138 fatalities in 2008 to 115 in 2015. At 8.6 per 100,000,  that fatality rate is now lower than the U.S. average of 10.3 per 100,000.

Public Opinion on Seat Belt Laws

Those wondering why NH remains the only state without a mandatory seat belt law need look no further than public opinion. A Citizen Voices discussion of the issue found that 90% of respondents opposed legislating seat belt usage, arguing that buckling up should remain a personal choice, not a government requirement.

Federal Laws

The federal government strongly encourages states to pass primary or secondary seat belt laws, citing statistics that show higher rates of fatalities among non-restrained drivers.

Past federal efforts to encourage the passage of seat belt legislation include offering substantial grants to states that enacted such laws, or strengthened existing ones. The seat belt legislation proposed in NH in 2009 would have qualified the state for such funds.

Other States

The other 49 states either have primary or secondary seat belt laws.

  • A primary law means that law enforcement can stop motorists solely for not wearing a seat belt.
  • Secondary 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.
  • The CDC states that primary seat belt laws result in a 9% high rate of seat belt usage than secondary laws.

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