New seat belt law in New York requires backseat riders, 16 and older, to buckle up

Beginning on Nov. 1, all passengers in rear seats in New York state, aged 16 and older, must wear seat belts under a new law signed Aug. 11 by Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Photo via Getty Images)

Come November, if you’re 16 or older, you’ll need to buckle up no matter where you sit inside a vehicle in New York state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Tuesday mandating that all passengers in motor vehicles over the age of 16 to wear seat belts. The current law only requires seat belts for passengers riding in the front, next to the driver.

The change, which takes effect on Nov. 1, comes 36 years after New York became the first state in the Union to enact a mandatory seat belt law. That occurred during the administration of Cuomo’s father, the late Governor Mario Cuomo.

During the first year, the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reported that just 16% of individuals complied with the law and wore seat belts. But 24 years later, in 2008, the compliance rate was up to 89%.

The current Governor Cuomo said Tuesday that the backseat belt mandate builds upon his father’s legacy and will “create a safer and stronger Empire State for all.”

“We’ve known for decades that seat belts save lives, and with this measure, we are further strengthening our laws and helping to prevent needless tragedies,” Cuomo said. “It was under my father’s leadership that New York became the first state in the country to pass a seat belt law, and the nation followed his lead.”

Brooklyn Assemblyman Walter Mosley sponsored the new seat belt legislation in the state Assembly.

“Seat belts are a proven way to make our roads safer and lower the number of automobile fatalities,” Mosley said. “This legislation will go a long way towards achieving that goal and ensuring that all passengers are safe when traveling.”

The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee indicated that 30% of highway deaths in New York involved passengers who did not wear a seat belt.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, reported that 90.7% of drivers and passengers used seat belts in 2019. Moreover, 47% of passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes in 2017 were unrestrained.

According to the DMV, drivers who are either unbuckled or have passengers who do not wear seat belts face a fine of up to $50 for each failure to buckle up.