As a Phoenix Car Accident Lawyer, one of the most frequent issues I am asked by friends, school parents and clients regards the current seat belt laws in Arizona. What exactly does Arizona law require regarding seat belts? Is it true that if I am in an accident and not wearing my seat belt that I will be unable to recover for my injuries?

Let’s address these one at a time. First, there is one statute in Arizona that deals with seat belts: ARS §28-909 provides the following:

A. Each front seat occupant of a motor vehicle that is designed for carrying ten or fewer passengers, manufactured for model year 1972 and thereafter and required to be equipped with seat belts pursuant to the federal motor vehicle safety standards shall either 1) have the lap and shoulder belt properly adjusted and fastened while the vehicle is in motion or 2) if only a lap belt is installed where the occupant is sitting, have the lap belt properly adjusted and fastened while the vehicle is in motion.

B. The operator of a motor vehicle shall require each passenger under sixteen years of age to wear seat belts while the vehicle is in motion.

Seat belts are the law, and all front seat passengers must wear them. In addition, it is the responsibility of the driver of the vehicle to make sure that all persons under age 16, no matter where they are sitting, are properly restrained by a seat belt. Question: If an accident occurs, and a child under the age of 16 is un-belted and injured, could a liability claim be made against the vehicle’s driver—even if he/she was not at fault for the accident. Answer: You bet. I would make that argument every time if necessary to obtain the best recovery for my client.

OK, next question. Is it true that if I am in an accident and not wearing my seat belt that I will be unable to recover for my injuries? The answer is, maybe. I will explain.

Arizona is a “comparative fault" state. That means that if an accident occurs, all persons who have liability will be made to pay damages based upon a percentage allocation of fault. If you are 100% at fault, you pay 100% of the damages. If you are 10% at fault, you pay 10% of the damages.

Under Arizona’s comparative fault statute ARS §12-2506:

A. In an action for personal injury, property damage or wrongful death… each defendant is liable only for the amount of damages allocated to that defendant in direct proportion to that defendant’s percentage of fault, and a separate judgment shall be entered against the defendant for that amount.

Pervasive in the area of tort law is the “reasonable person standard". That means, generally, that “failing to act like a reasonable person" may expose you to liability, if such results in injury or damage to another. Not paying attention to the road and caused an accident? You were not acting “like a reasonable person".

Following too closely or speeding and caused an accident? You were not acting “like a reasonable person".

The same applies to seat belt use. The “reasonable person" knows that he/she is supposed to wear a seat belt (ARS §28-909). The reasonable person knows that seat belts prevent serious injuries and save lives. So, even if you are involved in an accident that is the fault of another, IF the defense can prove that your injuries were the result of your own failure to wear a seat belt, the jury will be instructed that, under Arizona comparative fault laws (ARS §12-2506), you may be determined to be at fault for your own injuries, and as such, the jury can choose to not compensate you for that portion of your injuries related to seat belt non-use.

In Law v Superior Court, 157 Ariz. 147, 755 P.2d 1135(1988), the Arizona Supreme Court held:

…under the comparative fault statute (ARS §12-2506), each person is under an obligation to act reasonably to minimize foreseeable injuries and damages. Thus, if a person chooses not to use an available, simple safety device, that person may be at fault.

There is little doubt that seat belts often prevent more serious injuries and death. No one plans to be in an accident, and often we don’t even see it coming before we get hit. Personally, after having seen some of the horrors of seat belt non-use in my twenty years in the practice of law, it amazes me that people still refuse or fail to wear their seat belts. You now know the law, and you now can understand the repercussions of not wearing seat belts.

Are you willing to take the risk?