An Overview of Rhode Island's Seat Belt Laws

Rhode Island’s seat belt laws require that the driver and all passengers in the car over the age of 13 be buckled up.  This is a secondary enforcement offense, meaning that the officer must have had probable cause to pull you over for a separate driving offense before he may issue you a ticket for unbelted driving.  The fine for non-compliance is $57.

Children between the ages of 7 and 12 must be belted in.  This is a primary enforcement offense, meaning that officers who have probable cause to believe the unbelted occupant is under the age of 12 may pull over the vehicle and issue a ticket.  The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recommends that children between the ages of 7 and 12 actually be belted in the back seat, because the front seat poses a risk of death from air bag explosion for children under a certain height and weight.

Children under the age of 7 must be restrained in the back seat.  This is also a primary offense.  Children under 54” and 80 lbs. must be restrained by a car seat.  Those over 54” and 80 lbs. may be in a seat belt or child safety seat.

There are nearly 100,000 car accidents in Rhode Island each year.  Still, 2002 was the first time that Rhode Island’s seat belt usage has exceeded 70%.  The national average is 75%.  The demographic who most infrequently wears seat belts is young men (13-24), who only wear seat belts about 50% of the time.

A 2004 study from the Rhode Island Department of Health found that injuries and death are always more likely in accidents involving unbelted drivers and passengers.

Death was 2.8 times more likely to occur when the occupant was not wearing a safety belt.

The risk of death for 13-24 year olds is 4.5 times as great in unbelted occupants than it is in those who wear safety belts.

Severe Injury was 1.9 times more likely to occur.

Additionally, care outcomes are more costly and more time consuming in cases where the occupant chose not to wear a safety belt:

Hospital Admissions were 2.1 times more likely.

Hospital Charges were 1.6 times greater.

Hospital Stays were 1.5 times as long.

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