Three Things about NC’s Seat Belt Law You May Not Know

State law has mandated seat belt use by North Carolina motorists for more than thirty years. The seat belt law has, however, changed a bit over time. As a result, not everyone is clear on who is covered, what is required, and what the penalties are for violations. This post covers the particulars of North Carolina’s seat belt requirements and addresses three common areas of confusion.

1. Everyone in the car must buckle up.

G.S. 20-135.2A(a) requires that each occupant of a motor vehicle manufactured with seat belts have a seatbelt properly fastened about his or her body when the vehicle is in forward motion on a street or highway. When it was first enacted, G.S. 20-135.2A (1985) only required seat belt use by drivers and front seat passengers. Ten years ago, the General Assembly amended the law to require that everyone in the vehicle, including rear seat passengers, buckle up.

A separate statute, G.S. 20-137.1, requires that drivers with passengers who are under 16 years of age have such passengers secured in a child passenger restraint system or seat belt.

A handful of exceptions to the seat-belts-for-all-occupants requirement are listed in G.S. 20-135.2A(c).They apply to the following persons and motor vehicles:

  • Drivers or occupants of noncommercial motor vehicles with medical or physical conditions that prevent seat belt restraint;
  • Rural letter carriers;
  • Newspaper delivery persons while delivering newspapers;
  • Drivers and passengers who frequently stop and leave their vehicles or deliver property from their vehicles if the vehicle’s speed between stops is 20 mph or less;
  • Property carrying vehicles used for agricultural purpose in intrastate commerce;
  • Motor vehicles that are not required to be equipped with seat belts under federal law;
  • Occupants of a motor home other than the driver and front seat passengers;
  • Persons in the custody of a law enforcement officer who are being transported in the back of a law enforcement vehicle; and
  • Passengers of a residential garbage or recycling truck while the truck is operating during collection rounds.


2. A motor vehicle may not be stopped for a back-seat passenger’s failure to buckle up.

A law enforcement officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that a driver or front seat passenger does not have a seat belt properly fastened about his or her body may stop the car to investigate.  A law enforcement officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that a rear seat occupant is not wearing a seat belt may not. That’s because G.S. 20-135.2A(d1) categorizes the failure to buckle up in the back seat as a secondary violation for which a vehicle may not be stopped. A law enforcement officer who has lawfully stopped a vehicle for another reason and learns in the process of a rear seat belt violation may, of course, cite the driver for this offense. Nearly as many charges were issued for unbuckled rear seat passengers in 2015 (12,847) as there were for unrestrained front-seat passengers (13,808). Charges for both categories were vastly outnumbered by the 108,320 charges issued for unbuckled drivers that year.

3. You need a statute book and a calculator to figure out the penalty for front seat violations.

The monetary penalty for a seat belt violation has significantly increased since seat belt use was first mandated. Back in 1986, a violation of the seat belt law (then, as now, an infraction) was punishable by a fine of $25. No court costs were assessed. Today, the penalty for a front-seat occupant’s failure to wear a seat belt is $25.50 plus $153.50 in district court costs. That’s a total of $179.

It is much simpler to calculate the costs of a rear seat violation. The penalty is a flat $10 and no costs may be assessed.

Are statutory amendments on the horizon? 

The Child Fatality Task Force, a legislative study commission, has recommended that law enforcement officers be permitted to stop vehicles for a back seat passenger’s failure to wear a seat belt and that the fine for back seat violations be increased to $25.  The task force contends that these changes are necessary to meet occupant protection criteria established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and to shore up certain federal funds. The task force further contends that making rear seat belt requirements a primary enforcement violation will increase seat belt usage. The group cites research findings that a greater percentage of fatal and serious injuries occur to unrestrained rear seat occupants than to unrestrained front seat occupants. It also states an unrestrained back seat passenger can injure a front seat passenger in a crash.

If the legislature adopts these or other changes to the seat belt laws, I’ll be sure to note them on the blog.

49 comments on “Three Things about NC’s Seat Belt Law You May Not Know

  1. Interested in your opinion or any of the SOG readers regarding the following scenario and applicability of the seatbelt law regarding the “Ag/Farm Tag” exemption. Suppose farmer Smith is checking several of his soybean fields, all within a 10 mile radius of his “farm” but he rents land in several spots and is driving down a US Highway between fields, for this scenario sake, we will say he checked field 1, returned to his vehicle, and is driving 2 miles down a US Highway to field 2. A LEO pulls him and cites him for failure to wear restraining belt shortly before he reaches the 2nd field. Farmer Smith is not impressed and expresses to the officer that he is engaged in intrastate agricultural business. Officer disagrees stating that the distance traveled negated any farm business occurring during that time. Whose side would you take and why?

    • I am a farmer and it is ridiculous to have to hook and unhook your seatbelt every time you get in and out of a vehicle. The seatbelt law is just a money gimmick anyway. It should be the owner of the the vehicle that pays taxes on that vehicles choice if he or she wants to wear thier seat belt who gives u the right to tell me how to take care of myself?

      • So very true. Citizens don’t stand for nothing.

    • That’s nutin. I found out today 12/12/2019 that I violated the seat belt law in 1987. And it is now preventing me from getting my license in another state. This is a money scam.
      And you can’t just get someone on the phone to pay a fine and be done with it. NO! You have to hire a lawyer to contact the courts to resolve your issue. Is the state of NC in that bad of a financial state they need to start this. Makes me wish I didn’t serve my county in that state.

      Watch, you will see this on TMZ soon.

  2. thanks for the info about the backseat passenger not being basis for stop

  3. Query: If a driver’s seatbelt is ‘properly fastened” in the receptacle, is she in violation of 20-135.2.A if the strap is worn under her shoulder so as not to aggravate a painful medical condition?

    • I was just given a ticket for this!! I was only stopped for the seat belt!! I had seatbelt fastened but had the shoulder strap under my arm. I think it should be drivers choice. It’s all a money racket!

  4. Is it a moving violation effecting your insurance?

  5. what happen when you forgot to pay you seatbelt tickey for a period of time and leave the country for a while and come back….

    • You will have a warrant for your arrest for failure to appear and not paying the ticket!

  6. A Highway Patrolman pulled over an elderly man and gave him a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. The elderly man took off the seatbelt after being stopped to get his wallet out of his back pocket. Prior to being stopped, he did have on the seatbelt, so I am wondering why he was initially stopped. I think out of all fairness, a warning should have been issued instead of a ticket for 179.00 but who is going to believe this old man over the Highway Patrolman? To make matters worse, he can not fight it.

  7. It is absolutely ridiculous that your state has to get their hands on every little piece of money that they can buy penalizing people for not wearing a seatbelt should be to their own discretion but all means they can ride a motorcycle with nothing holding them on

    • Or children on a school bus are allowed to bust thier face on the seat in front of them in a collision !!

  8. Seat belt citation have become increasingly popular with highway patrol and othe LEOs as they are generally much easier & safer to execute than other violations, North Carolina has the highest citation amounts in the nation except for Calif. Brandon H is right, the authorities should have no business in seat belt use, which should be at the operators discretion. In the case of a driver, the decision whether or not to wear a seat belt has NO impact on the safety of others. Absolutely ridiculous to have 160 dollar court costs added to a 25 dollar ticket! It costs the courts NOTHING to process these, not even a stamp! It’s not hard to see who the real “criminals” are!

    • Jim, I can see the argument for saying that the use of the seat belt should be at the operator’s discretion. Just to play devil’s advocate though, suppose the scenario happens… A father is driving down the road with his wife and two children in the vehicle. The father is driving safely, not speeding, and is following all laws, except he is not wearing his seat belt. He drives through a four-way intersection where he does not have to stop. A vehicle is coming down the road perpendicular to the road the family is traveling on and has a stop sign. That driver does not stop and T-bones the vehicle carrying the family. The vehicle with the family then travels off the road, down a ditch, and rolls over a couple times into a field. The father is not seat-belted in, so when the vehicle goes off the road and rolls, he becomes a mobile object inside and his body is now free to slam into the bodies of his family members inside the vehicle, potentially causing further injury or death to them as well. Sure the guy, traveling down the road alone only has himself to worry about, but when someone chooses not to buckle up with other people in the vehicle, that person is putting everyone else at greater risk.

      • Ok Chris, I can agree for the most part. but let’s follow your same scenario, with a passenger in the back seat unbuckled, that passenger is just as much a threat as the unbuckled driver would be, yet the fine is only ten dollars without court costs. What sense does that make? It makes none. The insane court costs associated with operator seat belt violations is nothing more than our slovenly justice system taking advantage of its citizens for the most minor of offenses. In my case, I spend hours in a vehicle every day, mostly off of public roads, opening gates, unloading the truck, cleaning culverts, etc. in and out in and out all day sometimes, never exceeding ten or fifteen MPH, seat belt use in such conditions is just silly, so the habit of always fastening up comes a lot harder to me than most drivers. While I am on public roads, (buckled up if I’m lucky enough to remember) I almost never fail to see real violators putting everyone in danger with MUCH more dangerous activity tailgating, texting, speeding, passing where not allowed, etc. Yet, troopers are trending towards prosecuting this “easy and safe” violation over more serious threats to themselves or others.

        • I know this thread is old, but there is an exception if you make frequent stops. This is directly from the North Carolina Driver handbook:

          • A driver or passenger frequently stopping and leaving the vehicle or
          delivering property from the vehicle if the speed of the vehicle between
          stops does not exceed 20 miles per hour;

      • Ridiculous. A

  9. Anyone who willfully fails to recognize the dramatic increase in odds of serious injury or death from refusal to wear a seat belt either has a diminished capacity to judge the likely consequences of crashes or has a reckless disregard for their own or others lives. In either case it could be said that the State has the responsibility to require that the only sound and rational decision be made for them and require compliance. Human life has a value that is quantified in the law in various ways, and if a driver or passenger has no regard for their own life or well being it reflects a disregard for societal expectations of that value. The statistics on the extent of injuries or death by those wearing seatbelts as opposed to not using them is beyond dispute and should make any rational person recognize the value of compliance. Irrational refusal to accept irrefutable evidence of predictable harm indicates that refusal is not a rational act. How hard is it to engage the belt and use it properly? What ” freedom ” is gained by refusal? This is a
    “no brainer ” ; anyone who fails to see the obvious is not using theirs rationally.

    • Richard obviously isnt a farmer. See my reply to Chris above. I spend hours driving every day, off of public roads, working hard, in & out of the truck literally hundreds of times & driving 15 mph or less. Using a seat belt in such conditions is just silly. And then how do you justify that there is only a $10 fine for not buckling up in the back seat? The NC justice system is taking advantage of the least threatening of all possible “violators” . THIS AINT CALIFORNIA, & there is no excuse for this in NC, Most other states have far lower fines for seat belt violations and still have a better rate of seat belt use.

      • Missouri gets fined 10 dollars no matter where you sit in the vehicle. No court cost as long as you pay the ticket before court date . So only 10 bucks

      • Did you not read the article above your comment? Your actions, described here, do not require you to wear a seatbelt.

    • Richard is obviously a statist who has no concept of natural law. Nothing is “beyond dispute.” If the state’s responsibilities “could be said to extend” as he says, to forcing people to make safe decisions regarding their health, there would literally be no end to the amounts of legislation and revenue that could be obtained, which, as we all know, or dare I say “is beyond dispute,” is the whole point. Where is my pregnant wife’s exemption for being forced to have a strap across her belly thereby endangering my unborn child in the event of an accident? Of course, no thought is given for this or any other possible argument against wearing a seatbelt because LOGIC in law has long since went the way of the dodo. The individual making the decision always has more information than the state and it is his right to decide for himself especially in instances that have no effect on other persons. It is “beyond dispute” that an officer who is parked on the shoulder of an interstate, engages blinding lights making vision of the upcoming road unfeasible, exceeds the posted speed limit, pulls a citizen over on the side of a busy road, or a myriad of other behaviors engaged in by law enforcement, is being egregiously unsafe, but, for some reason, the state allows THESE unsafe behaviors. Therefore the argument in regard to human life being valued by the government is also refuted. As for the untenable argument that a non seatbelt wearer is somehow endangering other people and should be punished, this is also easily debunked by the state’s duplicitous enforcement behavior. The argument for this is simple. The government has legislated that automobile insurance is mandatory. What happens when a person either without insurance or with insufficient insurance is involved in an at fault accident? Who pays the bill? The at fault party? The government who failed to properly enforce their own laws (who in case you fail to follow the illustration, is the “non seatbelt wearer” in this hypothetical)? Not likely. YOU, the victim foot the bill. You are told you should have carried uninsured/underinsured coverage. AKA you are told to pay the bill for the violating party and for the government’s failure to do its job. Don’t tell me it’s fair and right and just to be forced into certain behaviors by the government when their own accountability is nonexistent in nearly every instance. I can’t resist one final LOGICAL argument. The penalty for noncompliance is $25 we’re told… yea no. They take the liberty of adding an obscene court cost DESPITE SETTLING OUT OF COURT. But I guess a statist would say it’s only fair to ask for over $100 fee in order to cash a check since the government is so inept it might actually cost them that much to fund the bureaucracy needed for all the laboriousness involved with cashing a check? We are also told we don’t get any legal counsel in so called “civil” matters… But what happens if you don’t pay? Your suddenly a criminal… So what is it? Civil or criminal? Can’t be both. But of course whatever the government needs to suit its own hypocrisy is always justified in the mind of the brainwashed statist.

      • Mark is so spot on. This is one of the best arguments I’ve heard for the insane perpetuation of fleecing the people for this “victimless crime” vs the whole “fabric of society” argument many like to adhere to.

      • Very very well said Mark! I just want to add the fact that charging Citizens Court cost of more than $150 when the court is never used and then over a $5 fee to use a credit card to pay online is stealing! there’s no other way to put it, if the over $150 court cost is not covering the credit card transaction why is it charged?
        My father is a police officer and even though I’ve only met him once as a child, every time I’ve ever been pulled over for a traffic violation and mentioned my father being a cop I was released without any citation or written warning! I’ve even had a State Trooper ask me “If your dad’s a cop why would you do something so stupid?” For doing more than 20 mph over the speed limit, But after shrugging my shoulders and saying I don’t know, was released without even a formal warning! I’m only trying to show that police do realize citations do very little to keep people safe and most cops are not willing to force even the relatives of other cops suffer the hardship of paying and unfair citation! Yes citations are needed for committing dangerous Acts, but why are warnings almost never given? Just being pulled over was enough to scare me into following all traffic laws even as a teenager, even without an official warning! Something needs to change, the money made from citation fees and court costs have nothing to do with keeping people safe, Traffic courts are unjust, money making schemes!

      • It is THEFT any way you you look at it . Just a money making machine , robbed by the police , nothing more . It just as well be armed robbery , he did have a gun , and if I don’t pay they will send others with lots of guns . What about my safety and well being then ??

        • No guns are sent if you don’t pay your seatbelt ticket. Your license is revoked by the DMV.

    • Thank you, Mr. Nanny State!

    • You can cite value of human life all you want to, but if a woman has the right to “choose” to kill her unborn child, I have the right to choose to not wear a seatbelt. Abortion always results in at least one death, two if it’s twins and three if there are complications that kill the mother. So if our useless government places no value on the most innocent of lives in our society, they have no right to use value of human life to justify a money grab.

      • Amen, amen, amen!

    • Am I being “irrational” by riding my motorcycle?

  10. Auto drivers & passengers must wear seatbelts. Bikers don’t have to wear seat belts, and for good reason. But bikers do have to wear helmets. Considering that over half of all reported traumatic brain injuries are the result of an automobile accident why don’t we require the wearing of helmets when riding in a car? The head is the most vulnerable part of the human body, afterall.

    Then again, helmets clash with the vanities of hair styles. Imagine trying to pass such a law today.

  11. A female was pulled over by a Highway Patrol officer on the case that she “wasnt” wearing a seat belt. Despite there being witnesses that she wore the seat belt properly the entire time, she disagreed with his accusations because her chest is lower than the steering wheel but still able to see over, his accusation was that she wasnt wearing the seat belt. He then said that she was calling him a liar despite she was only in disagreance with his accusations. If a ticket was given.. would there be a way to fight this ticket in court? Her shirt was BRIGHT orange while wearing a GRAY seat belt. It is just annoying to be pulled for something so stupid.

  12. Within a week of getting my latest seat belt ticket, I had a collision in which I slid off the road and into a tree which caved in my drivers side door, I suffered torn & separated ribs as a result of being buckled in, (the belt secured me in place as the door caved in and shoved the armrest into my side). Then, to my shock the vehicle filled with smoke, and I found that I was unable to get out because I had been shoved on top of the belt latch. I am so pissed at this point, I am going to find a way to get my $160 dollars worth out of our crappy justice system! I demand my right to choose between a concussion or broken ribs!! ; )

  13. It is the duty of NC citizens to provide feedback to the system at all levels in regards to the unfair disposition of seat belt violations. One should make known that the law is biased against older citizens and those who drive older vehicles, that our enforcement officers should not be responsible for decisions about our individual welfare, and most of all, that the court costs are exorbitant and inconsistent with the benign decision (or mere forgetfulness) for not buckling up. One should announce ones disagreement with the established law and associated court costs to the enforcing officer, their supervisors, the DA, as well as expounding on the topic at large at court, (after all, you are paying the court system quite a sum, and you do have the right and opportunity to be heard).

    • Couldn’t agree with you more Jim

  14. I was pulled over today for not wearing a seat belt. The buckle is broken. I normally fasten it into the passenger buckle. On this occasion, I had someone in the passenger seat, using that seatbelt and buckle. I think a verbal warning would have been enough.

    • So you continued driving with a broken seat belt and question why you got a ticket? Had you fixed it then you wouldn’t have been cited. I am an admitted procrastinator and probably have done what you did. We pay for the consequences of our actions and inactions.

  15. I have a ticket in hand that says fine is $25 and Costs $238 for a total of $263. This is ridiculous. Hard working people are getting absolutely robbed by this state. This is my kids Christmas money. For all the fake talk of taking care of the middle class and not so privileged sure does seem like they really could care less when the rubber meets the road.

    • Totally agree – write your local elected council members. Enough letters and accountability is the only to make this stop

  16. Hey UNC govt – why arent you and your students doing more to educate both themselves and the public and then the legislators to this much. I know that they are doing this to “Save lives” – but the side effect is putting millions into their own budgets – and yes, thid much strikes me as a little more than suspicious. Speeding. Fine. Reckless Op. Great. DUI. Right there with ya. But regarding something that should be so controversial and to place such a high fine on it as well?!? This much causes for some push back from all the citizens that share the states roads… including YOU UNC! So lets all stop being so hypocritical and ..well Ill say it STUPID about what should naturally be a choice. It’s your life, and if you can own a motorcycle and not have to sweat a seatbelt or any of the “legal preclusions” to not wear one, then I should not be ticketed for one either. And if I am ticketed it should come with no legal penalties ….and also the fine of $179 should be criminal as well as these ridiculous Police Checkpoints where they have an officer standing outside his vehicle calling in offenses with 5 or 6 cruisers waiting to continually stop people. Entrapment anyone????

  17. If it was really that big of a deal all cars should be equipped with 5 point seatbelts, a roll cage all occupants required to wear helmets and a firesuit. The drag strip requires this and if safety is the main concern why is this not a requirement of street vehicles? Only makes sense to add as much safety equipment as possible if the laws are for complete safety and not for revenue.

  18. “If the legislature adopts these or other changes to the seat belt laws, I’ll be sure to note them on the blog.”
    Have there been any changes in the past couple of years? I was wondering if a rear seat belt infraction is still not a reason to pull someone over and issued a citation in no other reason is indicated on citation.

  19. I have a $179 seatbelt ticket tht of which i failed to pay off within 20 days after my court date only to now be told by the clerk of court tht $379 is now owed without being able to explain why so I’m listening……..

  20. The state of NC law enforcement is a joke.

  21. Just a way to target minority drivers no one should be pulled over for a seat belt violation should be personal preference

    • Hogwash! The law wasn’t written to “target minority drivers”. Leave out the conspiracy theories. The laws affect everyone the same

  22. Who is going to police the police? Two North Carolina Highway State Troopers were facing charges for ticket irregularities. Jason Benson and Chris Carter were investigated by the SBI. As of this writing they are no longer with the Highway Patrol. The Highway Patrol has an issue with credibility. They have lost the public trust. They are focusing on seat belt tickets for the revenue not the highway safety of the general public. I would have more trust for this once respected organization if they would just tell the truth and restore public trust.

  23. In our current environment of COVID-19 and the violence that is running rampant in our nation, I find it strange that the police forces have enough man power to set up seat belt traps on rural roads in small localities. Having just gotten a citation I asked why not just a warning for a 70 year old senior citizen. Answer was never a warning for seatbelts. This was BS since it is discretionary and up to the officer. I this case it was Two state policemen sitting and waiting for their pray. Do they really have time for this petty game they play while so much destruction is being done to our country by real bad people. I can just imagine the arresting officer returning to the barracks or home to announce he cited a bad ombré for a seatbelt violation while other people are destroying our communities. The bad part is, for months while this nation is under attack I have repeatedly been outspoken to not defund the police. Now I have reservations and can see just why they are being hated so much by the younger generation. In fact I had 2 teenage grandsons with me who have a dislike for policemen and they were like, “grandpa is he really going to give you a ticket”. They also had many bad comments of disrespect for police. A warning here would have been adequate and not only give a 70 year old a break and savings of $179, it would also have instilled a bit of trust and eased the fear of policemen in their duties. I will pay my fine and be done with this matter, however the harm done to the general public will not soon be erased. I want to get back to my teenage days where policemen were friendly towards the citizens and not seen as hostile forces. This incident has had profound negative effects upon my opinion of police and their duties. “NEVER A WARNING”. Is this what it has come down to?