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In 1984 New York, under Governor Mario Cuomo, became the first state to pass a law making it mandatory to use a seat belt if seated in the front of a car.

Now, in 2020, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation effective November 1, 2020, requiring all passengers over the age of 16 in motor vehicles to wear a seat belt. This means that no matter where you are seated in a car, you must wear a seat belt.

“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,” Governor Cuomo said. A sponsor of the bill, Senator David Carlucci said, “The injuries you can sustain from not wearing a seat belt can be deadly, and that’s a fact whether you sit in the front or the back of a vehicle.”

A 2016 report by the American Automobile Association made the same case. The report found that “in the past 20 years, 886 unbelted rear seat occupants age 16 and over were killed in crashes on New York roadways.” The AAA also said that since 2010, over 29,000 people have been injured as a result of not wearing a seat belt in the rear seat. It continued: “Unbelted rear seat passengers are known as “back seat bullets” because they can be thrust at high rates of speed into the driver resulting in loss of control of the vehicle and into other occupants causing fatalities and serious injuries.”

What does this mean from a personal injury point of view? Obviously, you don’t want to be injured; wearing a seat belt cuts down on that possibility. Accidents, however, will continue to happen. Let’s say that you are a rear seat passenger who is injured in a 2-car accident. It is important to understand that if you are seriously injured – – but weren’t wearing a seat belt – – and the party that you sue can demonstrate that your injuries would have not been as severe had you worn a seat belt, a jury can reduce any verdict in your favor. This means that any money you might be awarded may be less if you don’t wear that rear seat belt. The other driver will argue that you were negligent in failing to wear a seat belt. While that is not a new or novel argument, it now has the force of law behind it.

You don’t want to be the one who must explain to a jury why, simply because you were in the back seat, you were not wearing a seat belt.  Wear a seat belt in the back seat….and if you are the driver, insist that everyone put it on.

And a word about those under 16. According to NYS DMV, “Every child under age 16 in the vehicle must use a safety restraint. If under age four, he or she must be properly secured in a federally-approved child safety seat that is attached to a vehicle by a safety belt or universal child restraint anchorage (LATCH) system. A child under age four who weighs more than 40 pounds may be restrained in a booster seat with a lap and shoulder belt. A child of age 4, 5, 6 or 7, must use a booster seat with lap and shoulder belt or a child safety seat (The child and safety restraint system must meet the height and weight recommendations of the restraint manufacturer.)”.  In other words, under existing law any child under 16 had to be properly secured. This new law requires anyone 16 and over to be seat-belted no matter where they are in the car.

This is not intended to be legal advice.  You should contact an attorney for advice regarding your specific situation.  


Robert M. Lefland is Senior Counsel and primary attorney in charge of Personal Injury at J&G. He can be reached by calling 866.303.9595 toll free or 845.764.9656 and by email .  He is available by appointment on Saturday’s.  If you need his immediate attention, you can reach him on cell.



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