Pop Quiz: What's the single most important thing that you can do to
keep yourself safe while driving? No, it's not hanging up your cell
phone-although that definitely helps! The most important safety measure
you can take to protect yourself on the road is also one of the easiest
to overlook: it's as simple as buckling your seat belt before you back
out of your driveway.
Illinois was the third state in the nation to enact a mandatory
seatbelt law for adults, putting the state at the forefront of traffic
safety regulation. Illinois' seat belt law mandates seatbelt use under
the following circumstances:
- Anyone riding in the front seat of an automobile must have their
safety belt fastened.
- If the driver is under 18, all passengers under the age of 19 must
be buckled up, whether they are in the front seat or the back seat.
This restriction is part of Illinois' graduated licensing program.
- If the driver is over 18, all backseat passengers under the age of
16 must have their safety belts fastened. Once you are older than 16,
you are not legally required to wear a safety belt while riding in the
back seat of a vehicle, but you should, both for your own sake and for
the sake of your fellow passengers.
- No matter how old the driver is, all child passengers under the age
of 8 must be secured in a child safety seat appropriate for their age
So, who doesn't have to wear a seatbelt? In most circumstances, only
adults in the back seat are allowed to leave the belt unbuckled.
However, there are a few narrow exceptions, listed below:
- A driver who is delivering packages or property and who therefore
must enter and exit the vehicle frequently does not have to wear a
seatbelt unless the vehicle is moving faster than 15 mph.
- A driver who has a medical condition which makes wearing a seatbelt
unsafe-but only if they have a doctor's note, an official certificate,
or a special endorsement on their license.
- A driver driving in reverse.
- Anyone driving a car made in 1965 or before.
- On-duty rural letter carriers.
In some states, breaking the seat belt law is considered a secondary
offense, which means that the police have to pull you over for another
traffic offense before they can charge you for a seatbelt violation. In
Illinois, a seat belt violation is a primary offense. If a police
officer sees you without a belt on in the front seat, you can expect to
see blue lights in your rearview mirror even if you were not doing
anything else wrong. Illinois police also run "Click it or Ticket"
campaigns, with officers patrolling specifically for seat belt
Illinois became a primary seat belt state in 2003. Since that time,
according to statistics quoted in the article "Illinois Traffic
Fatalities Lowest Since 1924, Seat Belt Usage Up to 90 %," which was
posted on the Insurance Journal's website in July 2008, seat belt usage
increased 14.3%. Thanks to the change in the law and stricter
enforcement, seat belt use in Illinois is now up to 90.5%, one of the
highest rates in the country.
Fines for not wearing a seat belt
Of course, you want to be protected in the event of an accident, so
you would wear your seat belt even if it weren't required by the
Illinois Vehicle Code, right? Well, if protecting yourself from serious
injury or death is not enough motivation for you, Illinois police
officers have an extra incentive for you to buckle up: tickets. Unless
you enjoy throwing your money away, it doesn't make sense to break
Illinois' seat belt law. Violating Illinois' adult seat belt law will
result in a fine of $55, plus applicable court costs and
penalties. $55 can buy a lot of things: a tank of gas, a nice
meal out...why would you want to have to give your hard-earned dollars
up to an Illinois traffic court?
Also, if you are under 18 and have a graduated license, you can expect
a few extra sanctions. If you only get caught violating the seat belt
law, you'll get a warning letter from the Secretary of State. However,
drivers who are under 18 can have their licenses suspended if they have
2 or more moving violations in a 24-month period. If you've been
licensed for less than 1 year, you'll also have to wait an extra 6
months before the state will lift its restriction on how many
passengers under the age of 20 you may have in your vehicle.
Do I have to wear a seat belt?
If you are driving or in the front passenger seat and you don't fit
into any of the exceptions mentioned above, you must wear a seat belt.
Illinois law is unambiguous on that point. However, if you are over 16
and in the back seat, it's your choice as long as the person driving
you is over 18.
As a side note, some pregnant women do not wear seat belts because they
are uncomfortable, or because they fear the belt could injure the
unborn baby in a crash. You should always wear your seat belt-you and
the baby are much more likely to be injured in a crash from being
tossed around the vehicle than from the seat belt. Just make sure to
wear it properly: the lap belt needs to be under your belly, never over
or on top of it, and the shoulder belt goes across your chest, never
behind you or under your arm.
Child Seat Info
Since small children require additional safety protection when
riding in a car, Illinois has a separate law that covers children under
the age of 8. All children under the age of 8 must be seated and
restrained in an appropriate child safety seat. If you are a parent,
and another adult is transporting your child, you are responsible for
making sure that they have an appropriate safety seat for your child.
Ideally, children who are too big for a regular car seat and too small
to wear a lap-and-shoulder belt should be in a booster seat with a
lap-and-shoulder belt in the backseat of the car. However, some back
seats only have lap belts, and you can't use a booster seat with a lap
belt. Therefore, the law does permit a child weighing more than 40
pounds to wear a lap belt only if there is no lap-and-shoulder belt
Why do children up to age 8 need to be in a safety seat? Seat belts
were designed for adult bodies. Children are much smaller, so the belts
don't fit correctly. In an accident, a child could easily slip out from
under the belt, or even be injured by the seat belt itself. How do you
know which seat to use? The Illinois Secretary of State has issued a
brochure to help parents out, called "Keep Me in a Safe Seat." The
brochure recommends parents do the following in order to be compliant
with Illinois law:
- Infants should be in a rear-facing infant or convertible car seat
until they are one year old and weigh at least 20 pounds. Infants in
rear-facing seats must always ride in the back seat. If there were to
be an accident, an airbag could hit the baby in the back of the head
and fracture his or her skull.
- From age 1 to 4, infants weighing between 20 and 40 pounds should
be in a forward-facing car seat. Again, young children should sit in
the back seat since an airbag could cause injuries.
- From age 4-8, use a booster seat. Booster seats raise children up
in the seat so that a lap-and-shoulder belt will fit correctly. Never
use a booster seat with a lap-only belt!
By securing your child in an appropriate child safety seat, you'll
be giving them the best protection possible, as well as giving yourself
peace of mind! After all, car crashes are the leading cause of death
for children under the age of 14. According to Seatcheck.org, using a
child safety seat can reduce the risk of death by 71% in infants and
54% in toddlers. However, it is important to make sure that the seat is
installed correctly and that it is adjusted correctly to fit your
child. If you have any questions, you can set up a free consultation
with a child safety seat fitting station near you. Call 1-866-247-0213
Why should I wear a seatbelt, anyway?
Nobody likes being told what to do. However, don't let your
independent streak blind you to the importance of wearing a seat belt.
If you were to get in an accident, your seat belt would be important
for a couple of different reasons. First of all, it keeps you in your
seat. Some people are not convinced that's a good thing-they have
nightmares about being trapped as their car bursts into flames or sinks
like a stone into a lake or river. B-movie car crash scenes aside,
these situations almost never happen in real life. In real life, only
about .05% of car crashes involve fire or water. In every other type of
crash, your odds are much better if you stay in the vehicle in your
seat until it stops moving. Drivers who are ejected from their cars in
a crash face a number of potential hazards, including getting crushed
by oncoming traffic or their own vehicle and injuries from being
thrown. In fact, 75% of people who are thrown from their vehicles
during a crash don't survive the accident.
Also, there is a tremendous amount of force generated in an auto
accident, even at relatively low speeds. Seat belts help prevent injury
by spreading these forces out over the strongest parts of your body:
the pelvis, chest and shoulders. All in all, according to statistics
from the Prevention Institute, seat belts help increase your odds of
survival in a crash by 45%. They also cut the chance that you will be
injured in a crash in half, by 50%.
Since violating the Illinois seat belt law was made a primary offense
in 2003, the number of people that have died on Illinois highways has
decreased tremendously. For example, the latest statistics were
released in July 2008, and they show a 19% drop in Illinois auto
Types of seat belts
Like other auto safety features, the safety belt has certainly
evolved over time. For example, the first safety belts did not even
come included with the car. Instead, they were installed by doctors,
who decided that they had to something to protect themselves after
treating numerous auto accident victims. Seat belts did not become
required safety equipment until 1966, 53 years after Henry Ford began
to mass produce cars on an assembly line!
There are four major types of safety belts that you are likely to
encounter. The first type, the lap belt, consists of a wide ribbon of
webbing that is worn across the lap. Since a lap-only belt does a poor
job of distributing the force of impact in a crash, this type of belt
is not seen in newer vehicles. However, it was still used in the middle
rear seat of new vehicles up until 2007, so there's a good chance you
will continue to see them for quite some time. You are less likely to
encounter the sash belt, a diagonal belt that goes across your
shoulder. This type of belt was recognized early on as being easy to
slide out of. Lap belts and sash belts together do an excellent job of
keeping passengers in the car and distributing the force of
A lap-and-sash belt is a combination of the two belts, with a separate
buckle for the lap belt and a separate buckle for shoulder strap. This
type of belt is effective, but people are less likely to use the
seatbelt properly if they have to buckle two buckles instead of only
one. The three-point harness is the gold standard, and the one you will
see most often today. In the three-point harness, the lap belt and the
shoulder belt are all one piece of material, with just one buckle
needed to properly secure a passenger.
How to use seat belts with children
Young children should use seat belts with an appropriate child
safety restraint system. How do you know when your child is ready to
graduate from a booster seat to just wearing a regular seatbelt?
Illinois requires that children use a booster seat until they are 8
years old. After that, it's up to you as a parent. However, it's safest
to wait until adult seat belts fit your child. Usually, kids fit in
adult seatbelts when they hit 4' 9" in height. However, it's a good
idea to make sure an adult seatbelt fits before you give away that
booster seat. Here's how to check:
- Put the child in the car, and have them sit all the way back in the
- Next, buckle the seat belt over your child.
- The child’s knees should bend naturally at the end of the seat, and
the lap belt should fit over the top of the child's thighs, without any
- The shoulder strap should fit comfortably across the chest, between
the child’s neck and arm
Both children and adults should make sure to use proper safety
restraints when driving or riding in car. When it comes to surviving an
accident, don’t stack the odds against yourself. Buckle up!