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Understanding seat belt usage liability

As summer approaches, Bozeman residents no doubt look forward to vacationing and enjoying outdoor activities. The inevitable rise in such activities typically means more vehicles on the road, which can increase the risk of traffic accidents. Fortunately, seat belt and safety restraint technology now affords even greater protection to drivers and their passengers. That protection can only be enjoyed, however, if people take advantage of it by using such safety measures.

Information shared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that national seat belt usage was up to 90.1 percent in 2016, with usage rates in the western U.S. (in which Montana is included) being slightly above the national average at 93.4 percent. However, it only takes a single incident of one forgetting to use a vehicle safety restraint to leave him, her or a passenger suffering devastating consequences. The question then becomes who is liable if passengers are injured due to not wearing a seat belt: themselves or those driving them?

Montana state law says that a driver may not operate a vehicle on the road unless each occupant is wearing a seat belt. Courts may often extend this responsibility to say that a driver is responsible for ensuring that each of his or her passengers in properly restrained. If not, he or she could be held liable for a passenger’s injuries, even though said injuries were not a direct result of his or her own decision.

Exceptions to this rule may occur if the passenger is an adult who understands the risk of not wearing a seat belt, or the passenger is a minor traveling in a vehicle with a parent. In such a case, liability often falls to the parent to ensure a child is safely restrained rather than the driver. 

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