California Seatbelt Laws and Penalties for Failure to Pay of Appear
California Law Mandates the Use of Seatbelts.
As an attorney with over 20 years’ experience defending clients in the state of California, I continue to find myself surprised by the number of folks seeking legal help to fight against a ticket for violating Vehicle Code Section 27315 - the code that mandates the use of seatbelts in California. It is rather shocking to see how few people understand the relevant laws and regulations as they relate to driving responsibly and buckling up, even though California's first seat belt laws took effect January 1, 1986 - over two decades ago.
Admittedly, we have come a long way since the first state in America - New York - passed a law mandating that seat belts were required in running vehicles in 1984. Back then, a mere 15% of drivers and people in cars wore seat belts, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2016 it was reported by NHTSA that a promising 90.1% of vehicle occupants were generally wearing seatbelts while driving. But are these statistics skewed, or lacking in terms of the bigger picture? The Governor's Highway Safety Association came out late last year to advocate for greater enforcement in terms of seatbelt wearing.
It warned the general public of the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt while driving, publishing a study that claimed 25% of adults don’t restrain themselves safe while riding in the rear seat. The report suggested that if at least half of the 803 unrestrained rear-seat passengers who were killed in traffic accidents in 2018 wore a seatbelt, they would have survived. And of the total number of people killed in crashes in 2015, roughly half were not wearing seatbelts. It is no wonder the law enforcement authorities are committed to targeting drivers and vehicle passengers who choose not to wear seatbelts.
Especially given the advent of car-share services like Uber and Lyft, which are often associated with carrying riders who do not buckle up. In recent years, state legislators, state highway safety officials, and Congress have collaborated to provide greater funding for seatbelt safety campaigns, increase public education on the subject, and support public health organizations committed to enhanced seatbelt use in cars. The NHTSA especially has been credited with influencing public opinion over seatbelt usage, with its Click It or
Ticket law enforcement campaign, which was launched in North Carolina in 1993. The campaign went nationwide in 2003, and in that year alone, it saw 508,000 tickets issued for seatbelt violations. Encouragingly, seat belt use grew by four percent that same year. So what are the laws, and what do they mean for drivers in the state of California?
What is the California SeatBelt Law Vehicle Code Section?
In a nutshell, California Vehicle Code Section 27315 states that any person 16 years or older must wear a seat belt when either driving a vehicle; or riding as a passenger in a vehicle.
Here is the actual section:
ARTICLE 3. Safety Belts and Inflatable Restraint Systems [27302 - 27319] ( Heading of Article 3 amended by Stats. 1999, Ch. 449, Sec. 1.)
(a) The Legislature finds that a mandatory seatbelt law will contribute to reducing highway deaths and injuries by encouraging greater usage of existing manual seatbelts, that automatic crash protection systems that require no action by vehicle occupants offer the best hope of reducing deaths and injuries, and that encouraging the use of manual safety belts is only a partial remedy for addressing this major cause of death and injury. The Legislature declares that the enactment of this section is intended to be compatible with support for federal motor vehicle safety standards requiring automatic crash protection systems and should not be used in any manner to rescind federal requirements for installation of automatic restraints in new cars.
(b) This section shall be known and may be cited as the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
(c) (1) As used in this section, “motor vehicle” means a passenger vehicle, a motortruck, or a truck tractor, but does not include a motorcycle.>
(2) For purposes of this section, a “motor vehicle” also means a farm labor vehicle, regardless of the date of certification under Section 31401.
(d) (1) A person shall not operate a motor vehicle on a highway unless that person and all passengers 16 years of age or over are properly restrained by a safety belt. This paragraph does not apply to the operator of a taxicab, as defined in Section 27908 when the taxicab is driven on a city street and is engaged in the transportation of a fare-paying passenger. The safety belt requirement established by this paragraph is the minimum safety standard applicable to employees being transported in a motor vehicle. This paragraph does not preempt more stringent or restrictive standards imposed by the Labor Code or another state or federal regulation regarding the transportation of employees in a motor vehicle.
(2) For purposes of this section the phrase, “properly restrained by a safety belt” means that the lower (lap) portion of the belt crosses the hips or upper thighs of the occupant and the upper (shoulder) portion of the belt, if present, crosses the chest in front of the occupant.
(3) The operator of a limousine for hire or the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 165, shall not operate the limousine for hire or authorized emergency vehicle unless the operator and any passengers eight years of age or over in the front seat, are properly restrained by a safety belt.
(4) The operator of a taxicab shall not operate the taxicab unless any passengers eight years of age or over in the front seat, are properly restrained by a safety belt.
(e) A person 16 years of age or over shall not be a passenger in a motor vehicle on a highway unless that person is properly restrained by a safety belt. This subdivision does not apply to a passenger in a sleeper berth, as defined in subdivision (x) of Section 1201 of Title 13 of the California Code of Regulations.
(f) An owner of a motor vehicle, including an owner or operator of a taxicab, as defined in Section 27908, or a limousine for hire, operated on a highway shall maintain safety belts in good working order for the use of the occupants of the vehicle. The safety belts shall conform to motor vehicle safety standards established by the United States Department of Transportation. This subdivision, however, does not require installation or maintenance of safety belts if it is not required by the laws of the United States applicable to the vehicle at the time of its initial sale.
(g) This section does not apply to a passenger or operator with a physically disabling condition or medical condition that would prevent appropriate restraint in a safety belt, if the condition is duly certified by a licensed physician and surgeon or by a licensed chiropractor who shall state the nature of the condition, as well as the reason the restraint is inappropriate. This section also does not apply to a public employee, if the public employee is in an authorized emergency vehicle as defined in paragraph (1) of subdivision (b) of Section 165, or to a passenger in a seat behind the front seat of an authorized emergency vehicle as defined in paragraph (1) of subdivision (b) of Section 165 operated by the public employee, unless required by the agency employing the public employee.
(h) Notwithstanding subdivision (a) of Section 42001, a violation of subdivision (d), (e), or (f) is an infraction punishable by a fine of not more than twenty dollars ($20) for a first offense, and a fine of not more than fifty dollars ($50) for each subsequent offense. In lieu of the fine and any penalty assessment or court costs, the court, pursuant to Section 42005, may order that a person convicted of a first offense attend a school for traffic violators or another court-approved program in which the proper use of safety belts is demonstrated.
(i) In a civil action, a violation of subdivision (d), (e), or (f), or information of a violation of subdivision (h), does not establish negligence as a matter of law or negligence per se for comparative fault purposes, but negligence may be proven as a fact without regard to the violation.
(j) If the United States Secretary of Transportation fails to adopt safety standards for manual safety belt systems by September 1, 1989, a motor vehicle manufactured after that date for sale or sold in this state shall not be registered unless it contains a manual safety belt system that meets the performance standards applicable to automatic crash protection devices adopted by the United States Secretary of Transportation pursuant to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 (49 C.F.R. 571.208) as in effect on January 1, 1985.
(k) A motor vehicle offered for original sale in this state that has been manufactured on or after September 1, 1989, shall comply with the automatic restraint requirements of Section S220.127.116.11 of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 (49 C.F.R. 571.208), as published in Volume 49 of the Federal Register, No. 138, page 29009. An automobile manufacturer that sells or delivers a motor vehicle subject to this subdivision, and fails to comply with this subdivision, shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500) for each sale or delivery of a noncomplying motor vehicle.
(l) Compliance with subdivision (j) or (k) by a manufacturer shall be made by self-certification in the same manner as self-certification is accomplished under federal law.
(m) This section does not apply to a person actually engaged in the delivery of newspapers to customers along the person’s route if the person is properly restrained by a safety belt prior to commencing and subsequent to completing delivery on the route.
(n) This section does not apply to a person actually engaged in collection and delivery activities as a rural delivery carrier for the United States Postal Service if the person is properly restrained by a safety belt prior to stopping at the first box and subsequent to stopping at the last box on the route.
(o) This section does not apply to a driver actually engaged in the collection of solid waste or recyclable materials along that driver’s collection route if the driver is properly restrained by a safety belt prior to commencing and subsequent to completing the collection route.
(p) Subdivisions (d), (e), (f), (g), and (h) shall become inoperative immediately upon the date that the United States Secretary of Transportation, or his or her delegate, determines to rescind the portion of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 (49 C.F.R. 571.208) that requires the installation of automatic restraints in new motor vehicles, except that those subdivisions shall not become inoperative if the secretary’s decision to rescind that Standard No. 208 is not based, in any respect, on the enactment or continued operation of those subdivisions.
(Amended by Stats. 2011, Ch. 474, Sec. 1. (SB 929) Effective January 1, 2012.) (Source).
The code also requires vehicle owners to maintain their car’s safety belts in good working order and states that a driver or passenger cannot ignore a ticket for violating the code.
Blowing Off Your Seatbelt Ticket Can Land You In Jail for Failure To Appear?
Yes! In fact, ignoring a seatbelt ticket under California Vehicle Code Section, 27315 will result in a new charge of failure to appear under California Vehicle Code Section 40508. What this means is that if an offender chooses to ignore a ticket for breaking California Vehicle Code Section 27315, they have willfully failed to appear as obligated in court. Thus they have violated Vehicle Code Section 40508.
ARTICLE 2. Release Upon Promise to Appear [40500 - 40522](Article 2 enacted by Stats. 1959, Ch. 3.)
(a) A person willfully violating his or her written promise to appear or a lawfully granted continuance of his or her promise to appear in court or before a person authorized to receive a deposit of bail is guilty of a misdemeanor regardless of the disposition of the charge upon which he or she was originally arrested.
(b) A person willfully failing to pay bail in installments as agreed to under Section 40510.5 or a lawfully imposed fine for a violation of a provision of this code or a local ordinance adopted pursuant to this code within the time authorized by the court and without lawful excuse having been presented to the court on or before the date the bail or fine is due is guilty of a misdemeanor regardless of the full payment of the bail or fine after that time.
(c) A person willfully failing to comply with a condition of a court order for a violation of this code, other than for failure to appear or failure to pay a fine, is guilty of a misdemeanor, regardless of his or her subsequent compliance with the order.
(d) If a person convicted of an infraction fails to pay bail in installments as agreed to under Section 40510.5, or a fine or an installment thereof, within the time authorized by the court, the court may, except as otherwise provided in this subdivision, impound the person’s driver’s license and order the person not to drive for a period not to exceed 30 days. Before returning the license to the person, the court shall endorse on the reverse side of the license that the person was ordered not to drive, the period for which that order was made, and the name of the court making the order. If a defendant with a class C or M driver’s license satisfies the court that impounding his or her driver’s license and ordering the defendant not to drive will affect his or her livelihood, the court shall order that the person limit his or her driving for a period not to exceed 30 days to driving that is essential in the court’s determination to the person’s employment, including the person’s driving to and from his or her place of employment if other means of transportation are not reasonably available. The court shall provide for the endorsement of the limitation on the person’s license. The impounding of the license and ordering the person not to drive or the order limiting the person’s driving does not constitute a suspension of the license, but a violation of the order constitutes contempt of court.(Amended by Stats. 2007, Ch. 738, Sec. 45. Effective January 1, 2008.) (Source).
Not knowing it is illegal is not considered an excuse under the doctrine of ignorantia juris non excusat, and it does not matter if the offending driver is guilty or innocent of the initial traffic violation. Simply not showing up is the breach in itself. Failure to appear for this violation (California Vehicle Code Section 40508) means that the act can be charged as a misdemeanor under California law.
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