Model Occupant Protection Law

Preface

 

The purpose of this legislation is to reduce injuries and fatalities on the streets, roads and highways by requiring all drivers and passengers riding in motor vehicles to be appropriately restrained by occupant protection devices.

This model law is a primary (standard) enforcement law. In the absence of limitations on enforcement, all laws authorize standard enforcement. Consequently, no special language is needed to authorize standard enforcement of occupant restraint laws.

Secondary seat belt laws uniquely restrict enforcement by specifying that officers may not issue a citation solely for a belt infraction, but also must have another legal reason to stop the vehicle. With secondary enforcement, seat belt use is difficult to enforce because a secondary seat belt law requires another traffic violation before a citation can be written for seat belt non-use. Therefore, with secondary laws, the safety benefits of seat belts are seriously compromised.

While the distinction between a primary and a secondary enforcement law is usually understood, many do not appreciate its full significance. In states with secondary enforcement belt laws, only the secondary belt law covers children above the age covered by child restraint laws, thereby seriously limiting the extent of legally enforceable protection.

In states with seat belt laws applying only to front seat occupants, legally required child occupant protection is even more inadequate: children appropriately sitting in a vehicle's rear seating position who are above the age covered by the state's child restraint laws are not required to be restrained.

Consequently, occupant protection for a majority of children in the United States is grossly inadequate, despite the fact that every state has a child restraint law and 49 states have seat belt laws.

Children younger than age 13 should be seated in the rear seat if space is available. In the event of a crash, the rear seat is the safer seating position. Seating children in the rear seat is particularly important in light of injuries and fatalities that occur when infants and young children are caught in the path of a deploying air bag. The risk is greatest for infants in rear-facing child restraints and unbelted children in the front seats of vehicles with activated air bags covering front seat passenger seating positions.

License sanctions have been shown to be among the most effective methods of increasing compliance with traffic laws. Subsection (b) of section 8 is offered for those legislators wishing to consider imposition of points or other license sanctions for violators of this act.

 

Model Occupant Protection Law

 

§ 1 Title

This act may be cited as the [state’s] Occupant Restraint Act.

 

§ 2 Application

This act applies to persons who are either operating or riding as passengers in a motor vehicle that is being driven on the public streets and highways of this state.

 

§ 3 Required Use of Occupant Protection

(a) When a motor vehicle is driven in this state, every motor vehicle driver shall have a seat belt, meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards, properly secured about his or her body at all times.

(b) When a motor vehicle is driven in this state, every passenger shall have a seat belt, meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards, properly secured around the body at all times except for children required by section 4 to be properly secured in a child passenger restraint system.

 

§ 4 Operation of Motor Vehicles with Children Younger than Age 13

No motor vehicle driver shall transport children who are younger than age 13 unless they are properly secured in either seat belt or a child passenger restraint system appropriate for the child's age, weight and height. If the driver is neither a parent nor legal guardian of a child and that child's parent or legal guardian is present in the motor vehicle, that parent or guardian and the driver are both legally responsible for that child complying with the provisions of this section.

 

(a) Children younger than 4 years of age regardless of weight, or weighing less than 40 pounds regardless of age, shall be properly secured in a child passenger restraint system.

(b) Children weighing 40 pounds or more who are four years old or older but younger than 8 years old1 shall be properly secured in either a child passenger restraint system secured by a lap and shoulder belt or LATCH system, or in a booster seat properly secured by a lap and shoulder belt system. This subsection (b) requirement shall not apply to children riding in vehicles with rear seating positions not equipped with lap and shoulder belt systems nor shall it apply to children riding in vehicles where all rear seating positions equipped with lap and shoulder belt systems are occupied by children younger than age 8.

(c) Children seated in rear-facing child passenger restraint systems, in motor vehicles with rear passenger seating and an activated passenger-side frontal air bag system, shall be seated in the rear seat. 2

(d) Optional - - (Children younger than age 13 who are riding in vehicles with rear passenger seating, shall be properly secured in the rear seat unless all available rear seats in that vehicle are in use by other children younger than age 13.) 3

(e) Optional - - (Every car rental agency conducting business in this state shall inform its customers of the requirements imposed by this section on operators of motor vehicles with occupants younger than 13 years of age and shall provide for rental of appropriate child passenger safety systems.)

 

§ 5 Riding in Non-passenger Areas of Motor Vehicle

(a) No motor vehicle operator shall allow a passenger to ride on or in any portion of a motor vehicle being driven in this state that is not a passenger seating position, including the cargo-carrying areas of any truck, pickup truck, or trailer.

(b) No motor vehicle passenger may ride on or in any portion of a motor vehicle being driven in this state that is not a passenger seating position, including the cargo-carrying areas of any truck, pickup truck, or trailer.

 

§6 Exemptions

(a) Sections 3 and 4 shall not apply to motor vehicles that are not required to be equipped with seat belts by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208 (49 CFR § 571.208) as it may be amended from time to time.

(b) Sections 3 and 4 shall not apply to persons with a physically disabling condition whose physical disability would prevent occupant restraint if a physician who specifies the nature of the condition duly certifies such condition in writing and the reason occupant restraint is inappropriate.

(c) The provisions of section (5) shall not apply to the following:

(1) A vehicle in use in a parade if operated at less than 15 mph.

(2) A vehicle in use in a hayride if operated at less than 15 mph.

(3) A vehicle crossing a road or highway from one field to another if operated at less than 15 mph.

 

§7 Definitions

(a) "Belt-positioning seat" means a child passenger restraint system that positions a child on a vehicle seat to improve the fit of the child in a lap and shoulder seat belt system, and when occupied by a child in a manner consistent with original manufacturer instructions, complies with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 213 (49 CFR § 571.213) as it may be amended from time to time.

(b) "Booster seat" means either a backless child passenger restraint system meeting the standards of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 213 (49 CFR § 571.213) as it may be amended from time to time, or a belt-positioning seat meeting the standards of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 213 (49 CFR § 571.213) as it may be amended from time to time.

(c) "Child passenger restraint system" means a specially designed seating system that conforms with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 213 (49 CFR § 571.213) as it may be amended from time to time and which is either permanently affixed to a motor vehicle or is affixed to such vehicle by a seat belt or LATCH system.

(d) "Driven" means operated or in physical control of a vehicle.

(e) "Driver" means a person who drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle.

(f) "Hayride" means a pleasure ride taken by a person or group of persons in the
cargo area of a vehicle that is designed to carry hay or other agricultural produce.

(g) "Field" means a piece of cleared land for raising crops or pasturing livestock.

(h) "Lap and shoulder belt system" means a seat belt restraint system consisting of a combination lap and shoulder belt that complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 (49 CFR § 571.208) as it may be amended from time to time.

(i) "LATCH system" (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children System) means originally installed motor vehicle anchorages providing for the installation of a child passenger restraint system by means of two lower anchorages and an upper anchorage to which a tether strap can be attached.

(j) "Motor vehicle" means any motor vehicle that is required to be equipped with seat belts by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 (49 CFR § 571.208) as it may be amended from time to time.

(k) "Parade" means an organized procession or march authorized by a governmental permit.

(l) "Properly secured" means the correct use and position of a booster seat, child passenger restraint or seat belt system, as defined or prescribed by the manufacturer of the product.

(m) "Passenger seating position" means a designated seating position as defined in 49 CFR § 571.3.

(n) "Seat belt system" means a system as defined or prescribed in FMVSS 208 and 209 (49 CFR §§ 571.208 and 571.209), which includes any strap, webbing, or similar device designed to secure a person in a motor vehicle in order to mitigate the results of a traffic crash, including all necessary buckles and other fasteners, and all hardware designed for installing such seat belt assembly in a motor vehicle.

§8 Penalties

(a) A person who violates this Act shall be punished by a fine of at least ($ 50.00) but not more than ($100).

(b) (Optional) A motor vehicle operator who violates this Act shall be assessed two points.

 

§9 Effective Date [Insert effective date.]

 


 

1 - Note: NHTSA recommends that children less than 8 years old and less than 4'9" should be restrained in a booster seat. 

 

 


2 - Note: In the rare instance when a child in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system must be seated in the front, the passenger side air bag should be deactivated. 

 

 


3 - Subsection 4(f) is an optional provision.  In the event of a crash, the rear seat is the safer seating position.  Consequently, children younger than the age of 13 should be seated in the rear seat if space is available and the vehicle they are riding in is equipped with rear lap and shoulder belt systems.  However, in those vehicles with the front outboard seating positions equipped with lap and shoulder belt systems and available rear seating positions equipped only with lap belts, it may be advisable to seat a child in the front outboard passenger position to take advantage of the superior protection afforded by the lap and shoulder belt system -- assuming that the front seat can be moved sufficiently to the rear to protect the child from a deploying air bag.  Therefore, States enacting subsection 4(f) or a provision in substantial compliance with it, also may wish to add a specific exemption applying to vehicles with lap and shoulder belt systems in the front outboard seating positions and only lap belts in the rear.