Woodland Hills Personal Injury Attorney Barry P. Goldberg sees all sorts of classic cars on the road in California, but how many do you think have seat belts? Are they required? Believe it or not, older vehicles may not require seat belts in order to legally be driven, but neglecting to update classic cars can come with a price. It is our opinion that you should NEVER drive without seatbelts installed in your vehicle.
Highway Safety Act of 1966
Before 1966, there were no federal laws governing safety equipment in vehicles until the Highway Safety Act of 1966, which required mandatory safety equipment – such as seat belts – installed in most automobiles starting January 1, 1968. Pre-1966 cars were not required by Federal law to install these safety standards. However, some states regulated safety equipment in vehicles sooner than the federal law.
In California, vehicles were required to have seat belts for all seating positions as early as January 1, 1964. Under the California Vehicle Code, vehicles older than this date are typically not required to have safety equipment installed in the vehicle. See Cal. Vehicle Code § 27315(f) (stating an owner of a motor vehicle need not conform the vehicle to safety belt standards “if it is not required by the laws of the United States applicable to the vehicle at the time of its initial sale.”). However, under certain circumstances, the California Vehicle Code will require seat belts regardless of a vehicle’s vintage.
Driving Passengers Without Seat belts
For instance, it is an offense for a parent, legal guardian, or driver to transport a child under the age of 16 on a highway in a motor vehicle without properly securing the child with seatbelts. See generally Cal. Veh. Code §§ 27360, 27360.5, and 27363. The age of the child will determine method that the child must be secured. Under the California Vehicle Code, “highway” includes streets, and is broadly defined as “a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.” Cal. Veh. Code § 360.
Breaking mandatory safety equipment laws does not create automatic civil liability for injuries sustained by a passenger. See Cal Veh. Code § 27315(i). However, driving passengers around in a car without seat belts certainly can expose any classic vehicle owner or driver to civil liability for injuries that flow from an accident if such conduct was negligent. See Cal. Veh. Code § 17150.
Crashing Without Seat Belts
While seat belts may not be required – except in limited situations – it is highly recommended that you install seat belts in your vehicle. A quick search of the web for crash tests involving no seat belts in older vehicles demonstrate the devastating effects of a crash, even at 30 M.P.H.! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEnmysbVqBg). The significant risk of exposure to civil liability for your injured passengers should be reason enough to install seatbelts in any case.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a serious motor vehicle incident while in a classic motor vehicle, then it is critical to hire an experienced personal injury attorney that can conduct a sufficient investigation to determine if the driver was negligent.