It is a point we cannot make too often. While we are dedicated to helping the victims of car accidents caused by another person's acts, prevention always takes first place among our goals. The use of seatbelts is one of the surest ways to prevent an accident from becoming an injury crash or, even more tragically, a fatal incident. We encourage everyone to buckle up and stay safe.
Section 316.614 of the Florida Statues is part of the State Uniform Traffic Code chapter of the state law contains the basic rules on wearing a safety belt. Subsection (4) makes it illegal to drive with anyone under age 18, including the driver, unbelted or unrestrained by a safety seat. Regardless of age, the driver must wear a seatbelt (per subsection (4)) as must anyone who rides as a front-seat passenger (per subsection (5)).
While Florida's first adult seatbelt law took effect in 1989, a major change occurred in 2009. Effective that year, the seatbelt law took effect in 2009, Florida changed its enforcement regime to allow primary enforcement of seatbelt laws. This means a police officer can stop and ticket a driver for a seatbelt violation alone. The prior secondary regime meant the officer had to stop the car for another reason before citing the driver for a seatbelt violation. While Florida had an 82% seatbelt usage rate before the change, there was an immediate increase in seatbelt use (85.2%) upon the passage of the primary enforcement law and an even stronger usage rate after "Click It or Ticket" programs.
Seatbelt usage is critical to keeping drivers and other vehicle occupants safe. A policy paper from the Centers for Disease Control ("CDC") notes that wearing a seatbelt cuts the risk of death for drivers and front-seat passengers by 45% and reduces the risk of a serious injury for drivers and front-seat passengers by half. Not buckling up also makes a person 30 times more likely to be ejected during an accident, a critical statistic given that 3 of every 4 people ejected in the course of a fatal accident die from their injuries. Figures such as these lend support to CDC's statement that "Wearing a seat belt is the most effective way to prevent death and serious injury in a crash."
We are 100% in favor of seatbelt usage and never want to suggest otherwise. However, we know that none of us are perfect. We often hear about people who were injured or the families of people who were killed in an accident that was caused by someone else but who are afraid to seek legal help because the victim was not wearing a seatbelt. Florida's seatbelt law does provide that not wearing a seatbelt can lead to a lowered monetary award in a civil case, but it does not mean you cannot recover at all.
Ultimately, you DO still have a legal claim. While the amount you recover may be less than it would have been had you buckled up, you should still consult legal counsel since you still have legal rights. Please don't let one mistake keep you from enforcing your rights and recovering the monetary damages you need.
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