SHERIFF'S CORNER: Fasten your seat belt, it's about to get bumpy

One of the most common questions asked is who has to wear a seat belt when operating a vehicle or what are the requirements for child passengers.

This is a highly debated topic because you always get that argument, "Well, you don't have to wear a seat belt on a motorcycle." One can argue that this is like the no-helmet law, being that it was not about safety but about more about money. I can see both sides, but we all have our opinion.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I cover the history of seat belts, legal requirements and child seat rules and guidelines.


The safety (or seat) belt was first invented in the 19th century by the English flight engineer George Cayley for his glider, which successfully transported people for the first time. However, the first patented seat belt was created by American Edward J. Claghorn on Feb. 10, 1885, in order to keep tourists safe in taxis in New York City.

As time went on, the seat belt slowly starting showing up in modern cars to help passengers and drivers from falling out of their seats while the vehicle was in operation. The concern was not really about safety.

During the 1930s, several physicians recognized the dangers of driving and began installing their own seat belts in their personal vehicles. They began urging auto manufacturers to install them on each vehicle.

American car manufacturers Nash (in 1949) and Ford (in 1955) offered seat belts as options. After the sporty Saab was introduced at the New York Motor Show in 1958 with equipped seat belts as standard, the practice became the norm.

Once they became more commonplace in vehicles, laws followed shortly thereafter. In the U.S., seat belt laws came around the time of the creation of The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966.

Though they were required by law to be in vehicles, wearing seat belt laws were a different story. Michigan has a primary seat belt law, which means that a peace officer can stop and issue citations to motorists simply for not being buckled up.

The first mandatory law that required vehicle occupants to wear their seat belts came into effect Dec. 1, 1984, in New York. Since then, every state has enacted its own law that requires the use of seat belts.

Even when seat belts were required by law, they were much different than what they are today.

In the 1960's, there were concerns of just using a lap belt. It was determined that there were much more lower abdominal injuries in a crash.

In the 1970's, it was determined that a shoulder harness with an automatic feature would be a better option for occupant safety. However, these would mess up mechanically and would sometimes lock up when they didn't need to.

In modern times, we have all kinds of added safety features. Air bags, uni-body construction, and the list goes on. As it is important that they increase the likelihood of surviving a dangerous crash, boy they are expensive to replace.


The first child car seats were invented in 1921, following the introduction of the Model T, however, they were very different from modern car seats. The earliest versions were essentially sacks with a drawstring attached to the back seat. In 1978, Tennessee became the first state in the U.S. to require child safety seat usage.

For clarification, here are the child seat laws in Michigan relating to age and size:

• Children younger than age 4 will need to be secured in a child's car seat in the rear seat if the vehicle has a rear seat. If all available rear seats are being used by children under 4, then a child under 4 may ride in a car seat in the front seat. A child in a rear-facing car seat may only ride in the front seat if the airbag is turned off.

• A child 4 years old to 7 years old, and who is less than 4 feet 9 inches in height, shall be properly secured in a child restraint system (booster seat).

• A child 4 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age, and who is 4 feet, 9 inches, in height or greater, shall be secured in a properly adjusted and fastened safety belt.

• Passengers 8 to 15 years of age must buckle up in all seating positions.

• Drivers and front seat passengers are required to be buckled up.

• Passengers 16 and older are not required to use a seat belt while in the back seat.

It has been our stance that this also applies to ORV's when dealing with side-by-side and UTV's, except that all passengers must wear seat belts wherever they are located.


Over 70% of the time, car seats are not installed properly. Frequently, we will usually participate in some community event on child seat safety where we have deputies who are certified on child seat installation. Here are some tips on putting in car seats from the Office of Highway and Safety Planning:

• The harness straps are not tight enough: Harness straps should fit snug to the child's body and should pass the "pinch test," meaning you should not be able to pinch any excess strap material.

• The car seat isn't installed tight enough: Car seats, whether installed with the seat belt or latch system, should not move more than one inch from side to side when tested at the point where the car seat attaches to the vehicle.

• Moving children to the next step too soon: Children should stay in their car seats until they outgrow the height or weight limit of the seat before moving to the next step, such as rear-facing to forward-facing.

• The chest clip is too low: The chest clip should be secured at the child's armpits to ensure straps remain in the correct position.

• Putting kids in the front seat too early: Children should ride in the back seat of the vehicle until they reach 13 years old. The force of an air bag may be too intense for children under the age of 13.


There are a few exceptions on who does not have to use seat belts, or certain vehicles that are exempt. These include:

• A motor vehicle manufactured before January 1, 1965

• A bus

• A motorcycle

• A moped

• A person in possession of written verification from a physician that stipulates that they are unable to wear a safety belt for physical or medical reasons

• A motor vehicle not required to be equipped with safety belts under federal law

• A commercial or US postal service vehicle that makes frequent stops for the purpose of pickup and delivery of goods or services

• A motor vehicle operated by a rural carrier of the US postal service while serving a rural postal route

• A passenger of a school bus

• An operator of a motor vehicle when operating the vehicle for the purpose of performing road construction or maintenance in a work zone can wear a lap belt, but is not required to wear a shoulder belt.


This is one that changed in 2000. Before this you could ride in the back of a truck without restrictions. That is no longer the case. This is also applied to side-by-sides and UTV's.

257.682(b) states:

(1) Except as provided in this section, an operator shall not permit a person less than 18 years of age to ride in the open bed of a pickup truck on a highway, road, or street in a city, village, or township at a speed greater than 15 miles per hour.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to the operator of any of the following:

(a) A motor vehicle operated as part of a parade pursuant to a permit issued by the governmental unit with jurisdiction over the highway or street.

(b) A military motor vehicle.

(c) An authorized emergency vehicle.

(d) A motor vehicle controlled or operated by an employer or an employee of a farm operation, construction business, or similar enterprise during the course of work activities.

(e) A motor vehicle used to transport a search and rescue team to and from the site of an emergency.


A violation of not wearing your seat belt is a civil infraction, noncriminal. The fine for not wearing a seat belt is about $65, but no points are assessed on your driver's license.

This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.

If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to

As always, it is a honor serving and working for all of you who live, visit and work in Lake County. Working together, we can make a difference.


This is a timeline of the seat belt law in Michigan:

• March 1982: State Rep. David Hollister first introduced the idea of a state seat belt law.

• 1982-85: Despite various changes to the original proposed requirement, numerous attempts to pass the bill failed.

• January 1985: The state House passed a bill mandating that people wear seat belts.

• February 1985: The state Senate followed suit.

• July 1985: The mandatory seat belt law went into effect. The state's seat belt use jumps from 19.8% to 58.4% with the law. It later falls back to 45.3%.

• March 2000: Michigan's seat belt law made not wearing one a primary offense. Seat belt use goes from 70% to 83.5% within one month of the new law.

• 2004: Michigan becomes the first state east of the Mississippi to achieve a 90 percent seat belt use rate.

• 2009: Michigan has the nation's highest seat belt use rate at 97.9%.