Virginia Seatbelt and Car Seat Laws: A Quick Guide

Virginia's seatbelt and car seat laws were designed to keep you and your children safe while you travel throughout the Commonwealth.

Virginia’s seatbelt and car seat laws were designed to keep you and your children safe while you travel throughout the Commonwealth.

As seatbelt and car seat technology has changed over the past decade, so too has Virginia updated its laws surrounding these safety measures.

While the CDC reports that using a seatbelt can reduce your risk of death in a crash by 45%, this statistic is only true as long as you follow all the relevant guidelines and laws surrounding seatbelt use.

In this article, we’ll quickly cover the absolute basics of Virginia’s seatbelt and car seat laws, as well as the penalties you should expect if you’re caught breaking these laws.

Remember, however, that an article is no substitute for the direction of an experienced Virginia traffic attorney.

Only a lawyer who has reviewed the full details of your case can give you the answers you need to resolve a traffic case in the Commonwealth.

Virginia Seatbelt Laws

Woman driver buckle up the seat belt before driving car

Put simply, Virginia law states that everyone should use a seatbelt or other proper restraint device every time they ride in a vehicle.

The one exception to this rule is that passengers over the age of 18 who are riding in the back seat of a vehicle are not required to wear a seatbelt, though it’s still wise to do so.

The Virginia DMV has a wonderful FAQ page on their website that answers most of the questions Virginia residents often have about seatbelt laws, so we highly recommend reading that as a starting point in your research.

However, in general Virginia’s seatbelt laws boil down to a few key points:

  • Everyone riding in the front seat of a vehicle must wear a seatbelt at all times while the vehicle is in motion, regardless of age.
  • Minors (under the age of 18) who are riding in the back seat of a vehicle must be “properly secured by an appropriate safety belt system…consisting of lap belts, shoulder harnesses, [or] combinations thereof.”
  • Children up to the age of eight must be secured in the back seat of the car with a proper child restraint device that meets the standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation. This restraint device must face backwards until (1) the child reaches two years of age, or (2) the child reaches the minimum weight limit prescribed by the manufacturer of the device.

While there are certainly exceptions and nuances to these rules (such as for busses or cars without back seats), most of the general rules fall under one of these three points.

Penalties for Breaking Virginia’s Seatbelt Laws

The penalties for breaking Virginia’s seatbelt laws are actually divided into two main categories:

  • For adults over the age of 18, Virginia’s seatbelt laws count as secondary enforcement laws. This means that an officer cannot pull you over solely because you weren’t wearing a seatbelt. However, if they pull you over for a different reason (such as speeding) they can also write you a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. The penalty for this infraction is usually a fine of around $25.
  • For passengers and drivers under the age of 18, the infraction is a primary offense. This means that an officer can pull you over for that violation alone. The penalties for this infraction can range from $25 to $50, depending on factors such as the officer, the offense, and the age of the unrestrained child.

Finally, note that violating these laws only counts as an infraction, not a crime. Further, violations will not result in demerit points on your driver’s license.

Virginia Car Seat Laws

Child in a baby car seat

The Virginia Code also includes several laws regarding the use of child safety seats and restraints.

These laws generally center on reinforcing a few key issues as they are described in the general seatbelt law as described above:

  • Children must be restrained in car seats or a similar restraint device until the age of eight.
  • This device must be rear-facing until the child is either (1) two years of age, or (2) over the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device, as proscribed by the manufacturer.
  • The device shall be placed in the back seat of the vehicle. If the vehicle does not have a back seat, the device shall be placed in the front seat only if the passenger side airbag has been deactivated.
  • The driver is responsible for ensuring that any passengers under the age of 18 are secured in a child restraint device.

The DMV’s Four Car Seat Stages

As a shorthand for the laws outlined above, the Virginia DMV summarizes these laws and categorizes them into four general stages that children must go through in regards to car seats and other restraints:

  • Stage 1: Rear-Facing Car Seats — All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat situated in the back seat of the vehicle. They should stay in this rear-facing seat until they are either (1) two years of age, or (2) over the minimum weight limit for the forward-facing version of their seat.
  • Stage 2: Forward-Facing Car Seats — Once your toddler has outgrown their rear-facing car seat, they should be transitioned to a forward-facing car seat with a harness. Your child should remain in this car seat for as long as possible. Once they reach the maximum weight (usually greater than 20 pounds) or height allowed by the car seat, then they should transition to the next stage.
  • Stage 3: Belt-Positioning Booster Seats — The final stage is for school-aged children—those that have outgrown their forward-facing seats. Belt-positioning booster seats are designed to help the seat belt properly restrain your child in the event of an accident. Most children will fit in a seat without the help of a booster once they are 4 foot 9 inches tall, or between 8 and 12 years old. Once your child fits properly within the vehicle seat belt, they should remain in the back seat until they are 13 years old.
  • Stage 4: Seat Belts — Finally, remember that children must wear a seatbelt at all times until they reach 18 years of age (as outlined in the general seatbelt section above). At this point, they may choose whether or not to wear a seatbelt in the rear of a vehicle, though it’s still highly advisable that they do so.

By following these four stages, you can both ensure the safety of your child and rest easy in knowing that you’re following all of the relevant laws.

Penalties for Violating Virginia’s Child Restraint Laws

The Virginia Code is actually quite specific when it comes to violations of the child restraint laws:

Any person, including those subject to jurisdiction of a juvenile and domestic relations district court, found guilty of violating this article shall be subject to a civil penalty of $50, which shall not be suspended in whole or in part…a second or subsequent [offense]… shall be subject to a civil penalty of up to $500.

Virginia Code § 46.2-1098

As you can see, the penalties for allowing a child to ride unrestrained are higher than those applied to adults.

Similarly, the penalties are significantly higher for individuals who commit a second or subsequent offense.

Exceptions to Virginia’s Seatbelt and Car Seat Laws

There are a few exceptions to Virginia’s seatbelt safety laws.

Generally, these exceptions center on situations where wearing a seatbelt would be impractical or impossible.

As a few of the most common exceptions you should watch out for, Virginia’s seatbelt and child restraint laws do not apply to:

  • Individuals with Medical Conditions — Any person for whom a licensed physician determines that the use of such safety belt system would be impractical by reason of such person’s physical condition or other medical reason.
  • Law Enforcement — Any law-enforcement officer transporting persons in custody or traveling in circumstances which render the wearing of such safety belt system impractical.
  • Mail Carriers — Any person while driving a motor vehicle and performing the duties of a rural mail carrier for the United States Postal Service.
  • Newspaper Carriers — Any person driving a motor vehicle and performing the duties of a rural newspaper route carrier, newspaper bundle hauler or newspaper rack carrier.
  • Municipal Workers — Personnel of commercial or municipal vehicles while actually engaged in the collection or delivery of goods or services, such as solid waste, where such collection or delivery requires the personnel to exit and enter the cab of the vehicle with such frequency and regularity so as to render the use of safety belt systems impractical and the safety benefits derived therefrom insignificant.
  • Certain Transportation Vehicles — Some forms of transportation, such as taxis, school buses, executive sedans, and limousines, are exempt from Virginia’s normal seat belt laws.

Note, however, that it’s still wise to wear a seatbelt at all times while in a moving vehicle, regardless of the exceptions that exist in Virginia’s laws.

Conclusion

Teddy bear fastened in the back seat of a car

As with all laws surrounding public safety, it’s best to err on the side of caution when it comes to seatbelts and other restraint devices.

For example, while Virginia law doesn’t require that adults riding in the back seat wear a seatbelt, it’s still wise to do so.

Similarly, even if your child technically meets the requirements for a forward-facing car seat, it still might be smart to keep them in a rear-facing seat for a little longer, if only to be on the safe side.

If you are concerned about whether or not your child is in the proper car seat, or if it is installed correctly, you can contact your local fire department and talk to a car seat expert to receive help.

Car seats and seatbelts have been proven to save lives, so buckle up for safety!

Finally, if you’re cited for driving without a seatbelt you’ll have to pay a small fine, but there likely won’t be any other negative effects on your life (such as points on your driving record).

Relevant Laws

Further Reading

Other Resources

  • The Four Stages of Car Seats, Virginia DMV — A quick summary of the different child restraint stages as outlined in Virginia law.
  • Seat Belt Frequently Asked Questions, Virginia DMV — A quick rundown of several frequently asked questions in regards to Virginia’s seat belt laws.
  • 2019 Seat Belt use in Virginia, Old Dominion University for the Virginia Highway Safety Office — A report prepared for the Virginia Highway Safety Office by professors at ODU on seat belt use in Virginia. This report documents produce data regarding the seat belt use rate in Virginia. It includes a great deal of information about how Virginia residents use their seatbelts, the fatality rate for individuals without seatbelts, and other associated data.

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