All drivers and passengers should buckle up when the vehicle is in motion for their own safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a seatbelt is “one of the most effective ways” to reduce the severity of injuries and save lives in car accidents. But can you get pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt in Tennessee? And can you recover damages following a car crash if you were not buckled up at the time of the collision? An experienced car accident attorney can answer these and many other questions. Contact our attorneys at Labrum Law to discuss your unique case and help you understand your rights as a car accident victim in Tennessee. Visit with our legal team today (615) 338-9500 to schedule a free consultation.
What Is the Seat Belt Law in Tennessee?
Under the seat belt law in Tennessee, codified at Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-9-603, drivers must be buckled up at all times when driving a motor vehicle. Tennessee is a primary seat belt state. It means that law enforcement can pull you over for not wearing a seatbelt, even if you are not violating any other traffic law. Under the seat belt law, drivers are responsible for ensuring that their passengers, including children, properly use seat belts while the vehicle is in motion.
The importance of wearing a seatbelt cannot be overstated. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), seatbelt use saves the lives of an estimated nearly 15,000 people each year. Properly restrained passenger vehicle occupants are substantially less likely to suffer life-threatening injuries in the event of traffic accidents.
While the benefits of wearing a seatbelt are well known, many drivers and passengers still fail to buckle up. That is why many people in Tennessee wonder, “Can you get pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt?”
Who Is Required to Wear a Seatbelt in Tennessee?
In Tennessee, all drivers of motor vehicles and their front-seat passengers must buckle up when the vehicle is in motion. While the seat belt law in Tennessee does not require adults to wear a seatbelt when riding in the back seat, children under the age of 18 must be properly restrained at all times.
The seatbelt requirements for children are based on age and weight:
- Children under the age of one or those who weigh no more than 20 pounds must be properly restrained in a rear-facing safety seat, which should be placed in the back seat.
- Children aged one to three or those who weigh over 20 pounds must be properly restrained in a front-facing safety seat, which should be placed in the back seat.
- Children aged four to eight or those who are less than 4'9” in height must be properly restrained using a booster seat system in the back seat.
- Children aged nine to 15 or those who are 4'9” in height or taller must wear a seatbelt when the vehicle is in motion.
- Teens aged 16 to 18 must wear seatbelts.
It is the driver's responsibility to ensure that their underage passengers are restrained using a proper restraint system. If you or your passengers were injured in a car accident while not wearing a seatbelt, consult with our attorneys at Labrum Law to discuss your compensation options.
Can Law Enforcement Pull You Over for Not Wearing a Seatbelt?
Now that we have established that Tennessee law requires all drivers and front-seat passengers to buckle up, it makes sense to wonder, “Can you get pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt?”
As you may know, states are divided into primary and secondary seat belt law states. In states where seat belt laws are “secondary,” law enforcement cannot pull you over for your failure to buckle up. In other words, if you do not violate any other traffic laws (e.g., speeding), you cannot get pulled over just because you are not wearing a seatbelt. However, you can receive a ticket for violating a seat belt law in addition to a ticket for the primary traffic offense.
However, Tennessee is not one of those states. Tennessee is a primary seat belt law state where drives can get pulled over and receive tickets solely for their failure to wear a seatbelt, even if they do not violate any other traffic laws. Under Tennessee law, the driver is responsible for violating the seat belt law themselves as well as for violations of their underage passengers.
Licensed passengers aged 16 or older are responsible for their own violations of the seat belt law. In other words, adults and children aged 16 and older will receive tickets for their failure to buckle up.
Can You Obtain Compensation if You Were Not Wearing a Seatbelt?
If you suffered injuries in a car accident but were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision, you might wonder if your failure to buckle up can affect your ability to seek compensation. While you may still be eligible to file a personal injury claim to obtain compensation for your injuries and losses, your failure to wear a seatbelt could affect your damages award.
In most cases, the at-fault driver cannot use your failure to buckle up as their defense to avoid liability for your injuries and losses. However, evidence of your failure to wear a seatbelt could be admissible if the opposing party can prove that your injuries could have been less severe had you been buckled up at the time of the crash.
Your failure to wear a seatbelt could affect your damages award because Tennessee follows the doctrine of modified comparative negligence pursuant to TCA § 20-1-119. Under the doctrine, the injured party's compensation can be reduced if their own negligence contributed to their injuries. The damages award will be diminished in proportion to the degree of fault.
For example, if you were deemed 30% at fault for the accident and your total damages are $100,000, you would be able to recover only $70,000. However, if your fault exceeds 50%, you will be barred from recovering any damages. It is important to note let this ever discourage you from contacting an experienced attorney to help you understand your legal rights.
Speak with a Car Accident Attorney at Labrum Law
Consider speaking with our experienced attorneys at Labrum Law if you are wondering, “Can you get pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt?” or “Can your failure to buckle up affect your compensation after a car accident?” Our knowledgeable attorneys are prepared to answer your questions and protect your rights if you or someone you love suffered injuries in a motor vehicle accident in Tennessee. Schedule a free consultation by calling (615) 338-9500.