Virginia seat belt laws require that all front seat passengers and drivers must wear a safety belt. Additionally, all passengers under the age of 15 are required to wear a safety belt, regardless of where they sit in the car. However, Virginia is not currently a “primary enforcement state.”
As a “secondary enforcement state,” Virginia officers must view a traffic violation before they can pull you over. Virginia officers may not pull you over for failure to wear a seatbelt alone. Virginia is one of 22 states that are still secondary enforcement states.
Studies have found that primary enforcement laws can increase seat belt usage by 9 to 14 percentage points. Each percentage point corresponds to about 280 fewer traffic fatalities each year.
Statistically speaking, nearly all of us will be involved in a car crash at some point in our lives. Over the average life span (75 years), more than 86 out of 100 Americans will experience at least one motor vehicle crash. Drivers who fail to buckle up are 2 to 4 times more likely to be hospitalized following a motor vehicle crash than drivers who do wear seat belts.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, car accidents cost about 55% more when the victim is unbelted. As much as 85% of the costs of an accident are not borne by the individuals involved, but are passed along to society. The National Safety Council reports that insured drivers who routinely wear their seat belts pay an additional $40 in insurance premiums each year to subsidize the injuries of those drivers who do not wear seat belts.
United States safety belt usage currently averages 70%. According to the National Safety Council, a 5% increase in usage would save the country $684 million a year in health care expenses. Additionally, income taxes and costs for public assistance would be reduced by about $328 million a year.
There are further economic reasons to pass primary enforcement laws. If Virginia changes its laws and becomes a primary enforcement state, it will be eligible to receive $16.5 million in federal grant money. Recent legislation provides states a one-time grant of 4.75 times their annual highway safety allocation for passing a primary enforcement statute.