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The New Florida Seat Belt Law: Primary vs. Secondary Enforcement and What it Means

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on July 07, 2009 4:55 PM

Drivers in Florida had better be paying more attention to wearing their seatbelts this week. A new Florida seat belt law took effect last week that allows police to pull over and ticket drivers and passengers 18-years-old and over who are not wearing a seatbelt (those younger already had separate laws). For those wondering if Florida was stuck in the traffic law stone-ages by failing to require individuals to wear seatbelts, that's actually not the case. It wasn't that Florida didn't require people to wear seatbelts, instead the change in the law toughens enforcement of the seatbelt requirement.

The difference lies in what is called "primary" versus "secondary" enforcement. Under prior Florida law, only secondary enforcement was allowed. Thus, police could give someone a ticket for not wearing their seatbelt, but only if they had a separate reason for stopping that person's vehicle. For example, if a driver got pulled over for speeding, then they could also get a ticket for not wearing a seat belt.

However, now the law has switched over to "primary" enforcement for seat belt violations. As a result, if a Florida cop suspects that someone is not wearing a seatbelt, that alone provides sufficient basis for pulling over a vehicle. The person can then be cited if they were breaking the law.

New Hampshire bears the dubious distinction of being the only state without a law requiring the use of safety belts by adult drivers and passengers in motor vehicles. Florida is now one of thirty states that have primary enforcement laws for seat belt violations. The remainder (aside from NH) have secondary laws. Florida penalizes a failure to wear a seatbelt via fines (the amount depends on whether the person not wearing a seatbelt was an adult or not). However, some states actually classify not wearing a seat belt as a moving violation and use a "point" system to penalize it. Drivers who accumulate points in such systems for moving violations may face higher insurance rates and sometimes the loss of driving privileges.

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