California Seat Belt Law FAQ

California has strong seat belt laws and most people comply with these regulations. There is solid proof that seat belts do save lives, which is the primary reason states have passed laws requiring seat belt use. California has an extensive system of roads and highways; the busiest highways are used by approximately 350,000 people each day. California is a leader in seat belt use, above 97 percent, compared to the national seat belt use rate at 87 percent. In 2013, there were 3,000 traffic fatalities in California, with just over half in urban areas. This is roughly one-tenth of the nationwide total.

California Seat Belt Law

Seat belt laws in California are strictly enforced and help reduce child fatalities. Motor vehicle crashes kill over 1,000 children every year and are the leading cause of death for children between 1 and 12 years old. Every baby should have the use of an approved car safety seat immediately. The seat can be used for the first two years, and many are designed for conversion to a different style of safety seat or a booster seat for older children. Kids under age 13 should always ride in the rear seat, properly secured by a safety seat or seat belt device.

The complete details of the California Seat Belt Law are contained in the California Vehicle Code, Section 27315 Mandatory Seat Belt Law. This law is also known as the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. This legislation was recently amended on January 1, 2012, mostly to address special needs of children. It affects use of common motor vehicles like passenger vehicles, motorized trucks, truck tractors and farm labor vehicles. It does not apply to motorcycles.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about California Seat Belt Laws

General Terms

  • Who must wear seat belts? – Everyone is included in the seat belt law, from infants to adults. People age 16 and up must wear approved seat belts; special regulations apply to children under age 16. The law applies to all who drive or are motor vehicle passengers in California.
  • What type of seat belt must be used? – The lower portion, the lap area, must cross the hips or upper thighs of the wearer. The upper portion, the shoulder area, must cross the front chest of the wearer. Use seat belts properly; use an extender if needed and never place the shoulder belt behind the back area or under the arm.
  • Who is responsible for seat belt use? – Each passenger is individually responsible, but so also is the driver responsible for making sure their passengers are wearing seat belts.

Child Seat Belt Law

  • When do children need to wear seat belts? – As of January 1, 2012, children who are less than 8 years old and under 4 feet 9 inches tall must be securely fastened in an approved car seat or booster seat. The child seat must also be securely fastened to the vehicle seat. With some exceptions, children younger than 8 years old cannot ride in the front seat.
  • Are there special laws for infants and toddlers? – As of January 1, 2017, children who are less than 2 years old must ride in a rear-facing approved car seat. Exceptions are made for children over 40 pounds or who are over 40 inches tall. Children should be secured according to the seat manufacturer’s instructions.
  • May children ride in the front seat? – Under certain conditions, yes, they are allowed to ride in the front seat. Conditions include: no rear seat or rear seats are side-facing jump seats or rear-facing seats, if the child restraint system cannot be properly installed in a rear seat, if all rear seats are already occupied by young children under age 8, and if there is a medical reason to put them in the front seat. The air bag on some vehicles can be disabled; the air bag system can cause harm to young children due to their size.

Adult Seat Belt Law

  • What age is considered adult for seat belt use? – Adults over age 16 must wear seat belts. If the seat belt is too small, use of an extender is required.
  • Who is responsible for seat belt use? – Drivers are responsible for passenger seat belt use; drivers can also be cited if passengers are not wearing seat belts.
  • What about commercial vehicles carrying passengers? – Drivers of taxis, limos, emergency vehicles cannot operate the vehicle if their front-seat passenger is not secured in a seat belt.
  • What if I cannot wear a seat belt due to disability? – If you have a letter from your doctor indicating a medical condition that prevents you from buckling up, you may be exempt from this law.
  • What about people riding in the back of a pick-up truck? – In California, it is illegal to carry passengers in the bed of a pick-up truck, unless it has an enclosed camper with chairs that have seat belts properly installed for use.


  • Who is exempt from this seat belt law? – USPS and newspaper delivery persons and waste collection personnel are not required to wear seat belts while working; they must wear seat belts before and after work. Taxi and limo drivers in the city areas may have exceptions if they are carrying fare paying passengers, but their passengers must be buckled up. In some cases, emergency personnel and public employees are exempt. Persons who have a medical disability may also be exempt; they must carry a letter from their doctor.


Fines for violation of the California Seat Belt Law can be quite costly, especially if the violation is for not securing a young child.

  • First offense―$20
  • Subsequent offenses―$50

For some offenses, fines start at a minimum of $162 for adults and $465 if a child under age 16 is not properly restrained. The driver of the vehicle will get the ticket, whether or not they are the parent.