California's Seat Belt Usage Facts & Statistics

California has a reputation for being one of the states with the highest rate of seat belt use — yet each year, thousands of people still suffer death and serious injury due to the decision not to buckle up.

Taking a closer look at the facts and statistics sheds light on how California has achieved comparable success when it comes to seat belt usage. It also shows how to reduce the state’s injury and fatality rates related to a lack of seat belt use.

California Seat Belt Usage Stats

According to the CDC, nearly 18,000 people were killed in California car accidents between 2008 and 2019. The majority of these deaths were related to a lack of proper safety restraints. 

These California stats reflect the state of motor vehicle safety across the nation. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for people in all age groups below the age of 54, and whether drivers and passengers decide to buckle up is a determining factor in whether a crash results in fatalities.

In California, 93% of individuals self-report always wearing a seat belt. This is considerably more than the national rate, which sits at 87%.

The CDC offers data on passenger car occupant deaths by age group, comparing the national rate to the California rate. Rates given are per 100,000 population: 

  • Ages 0-20: National rate of 3.6, California rate of 2.6
  • Ages 21-34: National rate of 10.3, California rate of 7.6
  • Ages 35-54: National rate of 6.7, California rate of 4.2
  • Ages 55+: National rate of 8.0, California rate of 5.6
  • All Ages: National rate of 6.9, California rate of 4.9

This data shows that California is slightly below the national average in every category. While these statistics indicate that the state’s aggressive policies toward seat belt laws and enforcement is having an impact, there’s still considerable room for improvement. 

California Laws and Programs for Car Seat Use

Data from the CDC shows that when babies and children use age-appropriate restraints, the fatality rate drops by at least 50%. 

Since small children can’t make safety decisions for themselves, California carefully defines laws dictating child safety restraints and doles out significant fines for parents who don’t abide by them. The state outlines what specific type of restraint a child needs based on age, height, and weight.

State law enforcement implements enhanced enforcement programs to ensure child restraint laws are followed. The enforcement programs are short-term and high visibility. They are often advertised to the community as a reminder to parents that they can be ticketed if children aren’t properly restrained. 

The state also offers distribution and education programs to help further curb the number of children who aren’t safely restrained. These offer age-appropriate car seats or booster seats to families, often at no charge, as well as education on how to correctly install seats and ensure safety restraints are used properly. 

To further help motivate children to remember to buckle up, California also offers incentive programs to both children and parents. These programs award prizes to families for correct safety restraint use. 

The combination of public education programs, strict enforcement, and carefully defined laws is helping to reduce California’s car accident child fatality rate.

Seat Belt Laws All California Drivers Should Know

All drivers and passengers know that you should buckle up when you get into a vehicle. However, not everyone is familiar with the specifics of state laws. 

Different states have different policies regarding seat belt use and enforcement. California drivers should be aware of what they can be ticketed for when it comes to seat belt use. 

California laws you should know include: 

  • Seat belt laws apply to both front-seat and back-seat passengers
  • You must use the seat belt properly, with the front strap across the chest
  • You can be ticketed if the chest strap is pushed under the arm or behind the back
  • All children aged seven and younger must be restrained in a car seat or booster
  • You can legally be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt

California follows primary seat belt laws. Primary seat belt laws mean that if an officer sees someone isn’t properly restrained, they can pull you over for that reason alone. 

Law enforcement regularly implements enforcement programs to crack down on a lack of safety restraint use.

Seat Belts Matter More than You Think

Aside from lower the risk of injury and death, there are additional pragmatic reasons California drivers should buckle up. If you’re involved in a car accident, whether you were wearing your seat belt can significantly impact the amount of compensation you qualify to receive. 

California is known for having some of the strictest seat belt laws in the nation. State strategies around seat belt usage are the primary reason why California is able to report such a high rate of seat belt use. 

Yet with thousands continuing to die each year in car accidents, the state is committed to continuing to raise its seat belt use rate. 

Since 1992, our personal injury attorneys at the Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, APC. have been fighting for the people of San Diego. Now, when those injured in automobile accidents – including cartruck, and motorcycle accidents – need financial help, or for the families that need to know that the loss of a loved one could have been prevented, there is a personal injury law firm in San Diego that is on their side. If you or a family member has been injured, call the lawyers at Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, APC. There’s never been a better time than right now to speak to a personal injury attorney—FREE of charge. Call us at 858-551-2090 or request a free consultation online today!