South Carolina Department of Public Safety
Buckle Up South Carolina
PRIMARY SEAT BELT LAW
Q. I hear the safety belt law has changed in South Carolina.
A. South Carolinaís previous safety belt law already required every driver and every occupant of a motor vehicle, when it is being operated on the public streets and highways of this State, to be buckled up. The portion of the law that changed effective December 9, 2005, is the manner in which the law is enforced. South Carolinaís previous safety belt law was secondary for persons 18 years of age and older. This meant that a law enforcement officer could not stop a vehicle solely for a violation of the safety belt law unless the driver was 17 years of age or younger. To issue a safety belt citation, the officer must have stopped the vehicle for another violation first.
The current primary enforcement safety belt legislation gives law enforcement officers the authority to stop a vehicle solely for a safety belt violation if he/she observes anyone in the vehicle not buckled up.
Additionally, the driver of a vehicle is charged with the responsibility of requiring every occupant 17 years of age or younger to wear a safety belt or be secured in a child restraint system as required by law.
Q. When did the current law take effect?
A. The provision of the law allowing law enforcement officers to stop a motorist if they observe someone in the vehicle not buckled up took effect December 9, 2005.
Q. What are the fines?
A. The person will be fined up to $25, no part of which may be suspended. No court costs, assessments, or surcharges may be assessed against a violator. A person must not be fined more than $50 for any one incident of one or more violations of the provisions of this article of law.
Q. Will a violation of the seat belt law appear on my permanent driving record and will there be points involved?
A. The safety belt violation will not become part of your permanent driving record maintained by the SC Department of Motor Vehicles or in the criminal records maintained by SLED. Additionally, the offense will not be reported to your motor vehicle insurer. It should be noted that a law enforcement officer must not issue a citation to a driver or a passenger for a violation of this article when the stop is made in conjunction with a driverís license check, safety check, or registration check conducted at a checkpoint established to stop all drivers on a certain road for a period of time. If during the type of traffic check outlined above, an officer requests that a driver and/or passenger buckle up and the driver and/or passengers refuse, then a citation may be written.
Q. Why do we need a primary enforcement law?
A. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has estimated that a change to a primary safety law normally results in an increase in observed safety belt use of 11 percentage points, which translates into a significant reduction in traffic fatalities, injuries and economic costs. Since the primary enforcement lawís inception in South Carolina, the State has seen an increase in observed safety belt use of 11.8%, from 69.7% in 2005 to 81.5% in 2009.
Q. How can a safety belt help me if Iím involved in a collision?
A. Studies show that using a seat belt reduces the risk of dying in a vehicle collision by 50 percent.
Q: What if the officer and I disagree about whether I was wearing my safety belt?
A: A law enforcement officer must not stop a driver for a violation of this article except when the officer has probable cause that a violation has occurred based on his clear and unobstructed view of a driver or an occupant of the motor vehicle who is not wearing a safety belt or is not secured in a child restraint system. However, a person charged with a violation of this article may admit or deny the violation, enter a plea of nolo contendere, or be tried before either a judge or a jury.
Q: How does a seat belt protect me if Iím involved in a collision?
A: Seat belts and child safety seats help prevent injury five different ways. By:
1. Preventing ejection.
2. Shifting crash forces to the strongest parts of the bodyís structure.
3. Spreading forces over a wide area of the body.
4. Allowing the body to slow down gradually.
5. Protecting the head and spinal cord.
Q: My seat belt is uncomfortable. Is it OK if I place the shoulder strap behind me?
A.: To get the most benefit out of your seat belt, you should wear it low over the pelvis with the bottom edge touching the tops of the thighs. The shoulder belt should be worn over the shoulder and across the chest, not under the arm and over the abdomen. Make certain that the shoulder belt is not worn so loosely that it slides off your shoulder. Pregnant women should wear the lap belt below the abdomen and the shoulder belt above the belly. Wearing the shoulder strap behind you increases the risk of facial and head injuries in a collision.
Q: My car is equipped with air bags. I would rather just depend on the air bag. Is that OK?
A: Even if your car has airbags, always wear your seat belt. Airbags are supplemental restraint systems that work with seat belts, not in place of them. They help protect adults in a frontal crash, but they donít provide protection in side or rear impact crashes or in rollovers.
Q: I have heard that a seat belt entraps you if your car catches fire or is submerged. Wouldnít I be better off in those situations not wearing a seat belt?
A: Fear of entrapment during vehicle fire or submersion is not a valid reason for not wearing seat belts. Only one-half of one percent of all crashes ends in fire or submersion. Most crash fatalities result from the force of impact or from being thrown from the vehicle, not from being trapped. Ejected occupants are four times as likely to be killed as those who remain inside the vehicle.
Q. I always wear my seat belts on long trips and the dangerous interstate because I have heard that most automobile wrecks occur on the interstate, but I rarely wear my seat belt if Iím just going down the road.
A: In fact, the majority of collisions occur on secondary or rural routes Ė not interstates. Seat belts should be worn at all times, even on short trips close to home. Three out of four fatal crashes occur within 25 miles of the crash victimís home.
Q: I have heard that the seat belt is just another way for the state to make money. How do I know that minorities wonít be targeted by the new law?
A: The South Carolina Department of Public Safety does not condone biased-based enforcement in any fashion. Our officers receive training on this issue. The Highway Patrolís supervisors regularly review in-car camera footage as well as troopersí citations to guard against this. Additionally, the new law provides for safeguards against this sort of practice. For example, every officer must collect demographic data on stops that includes age, gender, and race or ethnicity of the driver of the vehicle. The Department of Public Safety is charged with developing and maintaining a database for the information for all law enforcement and preparing a report to be posted on the departmentís website regarding motor vehicle stops using the collected information.