Understanding Seat Belt Laws in DC, Virginia, and Maryland


Fortunately, the days where seatbelts were optional are over. However, just because it’s illegal to not wear a seatbelt, doesn’t mean everyone wears a seat belt while in the car. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that of the 37,133 people that were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, 47% were not wearing seat belts. Tragically, that percentage is even higher for teenagers ages 13 to 15 (54%).


The most important reason to always wear a seat belt is because seat belts save lives. The NHTSA reports that between 1960 and 2012, seat belts saved 329,715 more lives than all other vehicle technologies combined. In 2017 alone, it is estimated that seat belts saved nearly 15,000 lives.

DMV Laws

There are two types of enforcement in seat belt law: primary enforcement and secondary enforcement. Primary enforcement means that the police can pull you over simply for not wearing a seat belt. Secondary enforcement means that the police can stop or cite a driver for a seat belt violation only if the driver committed another primary violation (like speeding or running a stop sign) at the same time.

While each state varies on the type of enforcement used in their seat belt laws, here is a breakdown of the seat belt laws in the DMV:

  • Washington, DC – Primary enforcement for anyone over the age of 16 in any seat.
  • Virginia – Primary enforcement for drivers under 18; secondary enforcement for adults.
  • Maryland – Primary enforcement for drivers, front seat passengers, or back seat passenger under 16; secondary enforcement for back seat passengers over 16.

For more information about your legal rights, please click here or call the law firm of Regan Zambri & Long, PLLC at (202) 463-3030.