• Brad Keating

Everything About Tennessee Seat Belt Laws

Complying with the Tennessee state law for seat belts is essential for preventing an accident. As the National Highway Traffic - Safety Administration states, approximately 15,000 lives are saved each year thanks to safety belts. Additionally, a properly restrained driver or passenger is at least 45% less likely to suffer a serious injury after an accident.


There are many benefits from complying with local seat belt laws, and the Tennessee Highway Safety Office has done a great job at promoting the usage of a proper seat belt system at any time. Approximately 88% of drivers and passengers in the state actively use a seat belt system to prevent personal injury, which is great news.


However, many people are still confused about what the seat belt laws in the state are, especially when it comes to child safety seat belt laws. Tennessee has specific requirements for lap and shoulder belts for both personal and child restraint, as well as ticket conditions in cases of a seat belt violation.


Here's an overview of everything regarding Tennessee seat belt laws, the child passenger restraint law, and other important information regarding seat belt law enforcement in the state.


Tennessee's Seat Belt Safety Law

Tennessee's Seat Belt Safety Law


According to the Tennessee Code ANN 44-9-603, Tennessee is a primary safety belt state; this means that all drivers in the state must wear a seat belt at all times when operating any type of motor vehicle. In essence, drivers and front-seat passengers must comply with these laws and have a proper seat belt system that can restrain their bodies when the vehicle is going in a forward motion.


It's important to note that children below 18 years of age must be covered by the Tennessee Child Passenger Safety and Graduated Driver Licensing law.


While people sitting in the backseat of a vehicle are less likely to suffer an accident, they're still required by law to be properly restrained while the vehicle is riding forward. In case the vehicle works with a lap and shoulder belt, people are required to wear both of these to ensure the safety of everyone there.


If you have been injured in an accident that wasn't your fault, speak with a Nashville accident law office to see how you can get compensated.


How Can Someone Buckle Up Safety with a Seat Belt System?


The best way to ensure the driver can properly protect their body while driving is to follow the manufacturers' instructions accompanying the vehicle. Furthermore, the vehicle manufacturer's instructions always include the rules for wearing safety belts for both adults and children.


Still, here are some general guidelines of what drivers must do to follow both the Tennessee law and the vehicle manufacturer's instructions:

  • The shoulder belt must not touch the person's neck. Instead, it should sit in the middle of their chest.

  • In cases of a lap and shoulder belt, it must be secured across the hip and rib cage.

  • The lap belt cannot rest on the person's stomach. It's vital to rest the safety belt on the person's hips.

  • Shoulder belts must not be put behind the person's back or under their arm.


Who Can Get Fined for Seat Belt Violations?


Considering Tennessee is a primary seat belt law state, law enforcement authorities can ticket vehicle occupants if they're not complying with seat belt laws. In the case of secondary seat belt states, law enforcement officers may only fine a person for violating seat belt laws if they pulled over the driver for another reason. In essence, a driver can get pulled over and fined if they don't wear a seat belt while driving.


In most cases, the driver is responsible for paying their seat belt tickets and the rest of the car's occupants. However, there are some exceptions for licensed passengers; for example, if the passenger is over 16 years old, they can be ticketed for failure to wearing a seat belt system. If the person is between 16 to 18 years old, they may get a ticket if they don't buckle up in the rear seat. On the other hand, if the person is over 18 years old, they may get ticketed for not wearing a seat belt in the front car seat.


Additionally, parents who ride along with their young children can get ticketed individually for failing to restrain their child's safety with a child passenger restraint system.


Violations of Tennessee's child restraint laws (and seat belt laws in general) are considered a Class C misdemeanor charge. In most cases, the person responsible for paying can pay a fine of up to $25 on the first offense and $50 for the second one. It's important to note that people can get ticketed for not complying with the seat belt law, but they cannot get arrested for that reason alone.


Are There Any Ticket Exceptions According to the Tennessee Highway Safety Office?


According to Tennessee law, any drivers or seat passengers who have a disability that prevents them from using safety belt systems accordingly are exempt from having to wear safety belts. Still, any disability must be certified by a physician in writing so that it's valid. Additionally, people with particular jobs, such as utility workers, salespeople, delivery people, and others, may also enjoy some exemptions.


How Common Are Car Accidents in Tennessee?


As a recent report from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security states, approximately 204,589 car accidents occurred in early 2020. Out of these accidents, there were at least 1,064 total fatalities and over 49,000 injuries. While seat belts are not 100% guaranteed to save someone's life during a car accident, seat belts save lives in some cases.


What Is the Booster Seat Law in Tennessee?


One of the most vital aspects of seat belt laws in Tennessee is the child passenger restraint law. In essence, parents must ensure their child's safety with a proper child passenger restraint system. Unfortunately, airbags and seat belts often don't provide the required protection for particular children; in fact, some airbag systems could even cause severe head or neck injuries to such child.


According to the Tennessee state law, children must be placed in booster seats in a rear-facing position to avoid potential accidents. Whether the child is on the rear seat or the passenger car seat, the child's parent must ensure they're accurately restrained at all times to comply with the child restraint law.


Booster seats must keep the child's body in a forward-facing position at all times, and they also must keep the child's neck and head movement to a minimum. Finally, the child passenger restraint system must be raised to fit their height.


Parents need to know everything about the child safety seat law in Tennessee. As long as the child is secured in a belt-positioning booster seat system that meets the federal motor vehicle safety standards, they're going to ensure a safe trip in most cases.


How Do the Child Passenger Restraint Laws Work in Tennessee?


The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security has particular regulations for ensuring compliance with the child safety seat laws. It's important to note that failure to comply with these child safety restraint system laws may expose the parents to tickets from police officers or other law enforcement authorities.

  • Children age one or lower must be in a child safety restraint system that complies with federal motor vehicle guidelines; this child safety restraint system must always be placed in the rear seat.

  • All children age two through three (or children that weigh more than 20 pounds) must be placed in a child safety seat (booster seat) in a rear-facing position; as with the previous guideline, the seat must be compliant with federal motor vehicle guidelines.

  • A child between the ages of four and eight must be in a belt-positioning booster seat system that meets federal motor vehicle standards. The seat must be placed in the back seat. In case that the child is older than eight but is less than four feet in height, they must still wear seat belts that comply with federal motor vehicle guidelines.

  • Children between the ages of nine and 12 must be in the rear seat and use a proper child safety seat system.

Finally, children age thirteen to fifteen must still be restrained properly to comply with local child passenger safety guidelines. The child restraint system that the parents decide to use must be compliant with the federal motor vehicle laws. In essence, parents are responsible for having a proper child safety seat system for passengers younger than 16.


It's important to note that a booster seat must always be checked by a professional before placing a child restraint system there. A rear-facing car seat must never be placed in front of an airbag since it could cause a serious accident. Moreover, if the child safety seat can only restrain children of 30 to 35 pounds, it may be installed in a rear-facing position if the child's weight permits.


Parents who want to ensure that their child's safety seat system is compliant with the federal motor vehicle guidelines can go into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration page to see how parents can install a modified child restraint system, a forward-facing car seat for children, a booster seat, and more. The Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital also has information regarding child safety seat stations in Tennessee.


What Are the Primary Child Safety Seat Types?


Several seat types have been mentioned in this article. However, it's vital for everyone to know what these do before installing any car seats on the vehicle, especially if they want to comply with the child restraint law.


Rear-Facing Car Seats

This seat is suited for children age one to three at a minimum. The seat works with a harness that secures the child in the event of any sudden vehicle movements. Additionally, the seat moves with the child to reduce stress to the child's spinal cord. There are three modified child restraint systems for this case, such as the infant car seat, the convertible seat, and the all-in-one seat.


Forward Facing Car Seats

As opposed to the car seat mentioned above, forward-facing seating comes with a tether that limits the child's movement in case of a crash. There are three types for this car seat: the convertible seat, the combination seat, and the all-in-one seat.


Booster Seats

As mentioned before, these seats allow the shoulder belt to adjust much more efficiently to the child's body without harming them. These seats may be placed on the rear seat or front seat, depending on what the child's weight permits, the child's height, and other factors. Regarding booster seats, people may find the following:

  • Seats with high back

  • Backless seat

  • Combination seat

  • All-in-one seat


Traditional Seat Belts

If the child is old enough, they may use a regular lap and shoulder belt on either the rear seat or the front seat of the car, as long as it complies with the federal motor vehicle standards. The shoulder and lap belt must be placed so that it goes across the upper thighs, chest, and shoulders.


How to Choose the Right Child Passenger Restraint System


There are many car seat models on the market, and the parent or legal guardian must choose one that feels comfortable for their child and complies with the National Highway Traffic - Safety Administration. Here are some guidelines people may follow before making any purchase/installation:

  • The car seat must be appropriate for the child's size and age. Children less than four feet and nine inches in height must use a specific seat belt system that complies with all safety standards mentioned above.

  • Car seats must fit the vehicle; for more information about the car seat's measurements, the parent or legal guardian may check the vehicle manufacturer's instructions. Additionally, parents may also read the vehicle owner's manual on how they can install a specific car seat on that specific model.

  • Children must stay in the car seat as long as the vehicle is moving in a forward motion. It's also recommended for the seat to be in the back seat at all times instead of the front seat. In cases of children younger than eight, the seat must be installed in the back seat according to the law.

  • It's recommended by law to keep children in the back seat at least until they reach 12 years of age.

How Are Seat Belt Laws in Tennessee Enforced?


Tennessee currently has a campaign called "Click It or Ticket," which was placed to remind vehicle drivers and passengers to comply with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's guidelines. According to the NHTSA, approximately 48% of vehicle passengers who died in car crashes in 2016 weren't using seat belts.


As mentioned before in this article, people pulled over for not wearing a seat belt can be fined up to $25 for the first offense. Additionally, any other unlicensed passenger under 18 years old may also get a fine if they're found not wearing a seat belt.


It's important to note that driving is a privilege rather than a right granted by the Tennessee state. In essence, not being restrained while driving can cause injuries to other people after an accident, not only to the driver at fault. Although wearing a seat belt is a personal choice for everyone, it's still enforced by law to prevent fatal accidents in the state.


Can a Seat Belt Cause an Injury?


Depending on how severe the accident was, a seat belt can cause injuries such as bruises, cracked ribs, and others. Still, these injuries are considered minor in comparison to what would have happened to the victim's body if it wasn't properly restrained by the seat belt. Additionally, the person needs to fit their seat belt accordingly to prevent any unnecessary harm. Overall, the seat belt must have a tight fit across the person's body, but it cannot be too tight either since it can cause some injuries in case the vehicle does a sudden movement.


What Can the Driver Do if They Don't Have Any Working Seat Belts?

What Can the Driver Do if They Don't Have Any Working Seat Belts?


There are some rare cases where people purchased a vehicle before the state demanded manufacturers to include seat belts. In those cases, the vehicle owner must find a way to install a seat belt system on their car that complies with federal motor vehicle standards.


In other cases, the person may own a car that doesn't have enough seat belts for all the family members who are going to ride the vehicle continually. There, it's also the driver's responsibility to install the extra seat belt if there's enough room in the car for it.


Finally, some seat belts are too small for some people, making them highly uncomfortable. In those cases, the drivers can purchase a belt extender, which can get the belt's length to one that can fit any person's body.


Bottom Line


Following local seat belt laws for adults and children isn't that hard, and it's critical if the drivers and passengers want to avoid an accident and a personal injury claim in the future. As mentioned before, seat belts have proven to save peoples' lives continually, so wearing them is a necessity.


In case any person was involved in a car crash and still was compliant with the seat belt laws, they may contact a professional attorney, like this injury lawyer in Tennessee to help them assess their personal injury claims in the best way possible.


For more information regarding auto laws in Tennessee like window tint laws and car seat laws, visit our blog page.