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Illinois Seat Belt Law

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.

State Law

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 and height.


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.
  • Motorcycle riders.
  • 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 violators.

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 available.

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, 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 for details.

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 accident fatalities.

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 impact.
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 seat.
  • 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 slack.
  • 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!


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