“Better be safe than sorry.”
Here’s what we cover:
Under Arizona law, a person transporting a child who is under five years of age must use a passenger restraint system; each front seat passenger and every passenger under 16 years of age must wear a safety belt; and a motorcycle rider under 18 years of age must wear a protective helmet. Regardless of the legal requirements, common sense and good judgment tell us that we should be as safe as possible whenever operating a motor vehicle. In this, we will look at the legal consequences of not using safety devices (whether legally required or not).
Child Passenger Restraint System
Except in limited circumstances, it is illegal for a person to operate a motor vehicle in Arizona when transporting a child who is under five years of age, unless that child is properly secured in a child passenger restraint system. This requirement does not apply to: 1) a person who operates a vehicle that was originally manufactured without passenger restraint devices; 2) a person operating a recreational vehicle; 3) a person transporting a child in an emergency situation; or 4) a person who is transporting more than one child under five years of age and cannot secure them all.
If a police officer stops a vehicle for apparent violation of this law, the officer must determine from the driver whether the unrestrained child or children are less than five years of age. If the information given to the officer indicates that no violation of this law has occurred, the officer cannot detain the vehicle any further unless some additional violation is involved. The officer is not permitted to search or seize the vehicle during the stop, unless there is probable cause for another violation of law.
A person who violates the child restraint law is subject to a penalty of $50.
Adult Vehicle Restraints
Each front seat occupant of a moving vehicle that is designed for carrying 10 or fewer passengers must use either a lap and shoulder belt or, in older vehicles not so equipped, a lap belt. This requirement applies to all vehicles manufactured after 1971 (1972 was the first model year in which federal law made safety belts required equipment). The driver must require each passenger less than 16 years of age to wear his or her safety belt, regardless of seating position.
A police officer is not allowed to stop or issue a citation to a person operating a vehicle in violation of this law, unless the officer has reasonable cause to believe there is another violation of law. A person who violates the seat belt law is subject to a maximum penalty of $10 for each violation.
The operator of a motorcycle must wear protective glasses, goggles, or a transparent face shield, unless the motorcycle is equipped with a windshield (in which case nothing else is required). If an operator or passenger is less than 18 years of age, he must wear a protective helmet. An adult operator or passenger is not by law required to wear a helmet.
Civil Mitigation Rules
Lest the wrong conclusions be drawn from the above discussion, let us now look at the mitigation rules that apply in civil cases involving motor vehicle accidents (a motorcycle is considered a motor vehicle).
Simply stated, a person who is injured in an accident cannot recover damages for avoidable consequences. Accordingly, if the non-use of a seat belt or motorcycle helmet enhanced the injuries or caused injuries which otherwise would not have occurred, the jury will be permitted to reduce the injured person’s damages accordingly. This is true even if wearing a seat belt or motorcycle helmet was not required by law.
Seat Belts Save Lives
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, about 43,000 people are killed in fatal car accidents each year in the United States. Safety belts can prevent death in about half of these accidents. Wearing a seat belt is still the single most effective thing we can do to avoid traffic injuries and death. Time to buckle up!
The above article is an excerpt from Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, 2nd Edition (Fenestra Books, 2012), by Donald A. Loose, republished with the author’s permission.
Disclaimer: Laws change constantly. Specific legal advice should be obtained regarding any legal matter. The information contained on this website does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created.
Donald A. Loose is an Arizona attorney, and the author of Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, and Estate Planning in Arizona: What You Need to Know. Mr. Loose is a regular guest on radio shows featuring local newsmaker interviews. He may be contacted at email@example.com.