What If I Wasn’t Wearing a Seat Belt in a Car Accident?

Wearing a seat belt is one of the most important things you can do for your personal safety as a vehicle driver or passenger in Arizona. While nothing can guarantee your protection in an auto accident, the seat belt is the main barrier between you and a catastrophic personal injury. Failing to wear a seat belt could lead to preventable injuries. Depending on where you live, it could also negatively impact your insurance claim.

Seat Belt Laws in Arizona

Many states have instituted seat belt laws requiring the use of safety devices for drivers and most passengers to help prevent fatal injuries. Arizona is one of them. Arizona Revised Statute 28-909 states that every front seat occupant of a vehicle must wear the provided lap and shoulder belt (or only a lap belt if no shoulder belt is available) properly fastened and adjusted while the vehicle is in motion. This rule only applies to vehicles built to carry 10 or fewer passengers in model years 1972 and later.

In addition, each passenger in the backseat who is 16 years old or younger must use a lap and shoulder belt or a child safety seat. Child passengers in Arizona who are five years of age and younger must use child restraints rather than a typical lap and shoulder belt. A child restraint will either be a rear-facing car seat, forward-facing car seat or booster seat depending on the child’s age and height. The only exceptions to Arizona’s seat belt law are people with authorized physical or medical disability waivers, as well as mail carriers.

How Will Compensation Be Affected If I Wasn’t Wearing a Seat Belt?

Not wearing a seat belt in Arizona could lead to a citation if caught during a traffic stop conducted for another reason, such as speeding or running a red light. The penalty for unlawful failure to wear a seat belt is $10 per infraction in Arizona. Failing to wear a seat belt could have a more significant effect, however, on a personal injury claim after a car accident. If you need to file a motor vehicle accident claim in Arizona, prepare for the defense to use your lack of seat belt wearing against you.

Arizona is one of 15 states with a rule in place that could reduce a plaintiff’s financial recovery for illegally failing to wear a seat belt. This statute is called the seat belt defense. In Arizona, the courts may accept a seat belt defense if a defendant can prove, using evidence, that the plaintiff’s injuries would not have occurred or been as serious had he or she obeyed the state’s seat belt law. Evidence may include medical expert testimony and crash reconstruction.

Courts in Arizona will determine the validity of the seat belt defense on a case-by-case basis. For the most part, the seat belt defense in Arizona uses the state’s comparative negligence rule to reduce the plaintiff’s financial recovery on a sliding scale. This rule states that an injured accident victim may recover less compensation by a percentage equivalent to his or her degree of fault for contributing to the injuries. If the defendant can prove not wearing a seat belt contributed to your injuries by 15%, for example, the courts would reduce your award by 15%.

Car Accident Statistics in Arizona

In 2019, 982 people in Arizona lost their lives in car accidents, according to the state Department of Transportation. Three hundred of these victims (both passengers and drivers) were not wearing seat belts. Drivers were wearing their seat belts in 84% of no-injury accidents in Arizona in 2019, while 14% of drivers with serious injuries and 7% with fatal injuries were not wearing seat belts. Obeying Arizona’s seat belt law and buckling up could save your life and protect your right to recover compensation.