Hawaii understands the importance of wearing your seatbelt. Statewide, Hawaii has a 97.1% seatbelt use rate. That’s higher than the national average of 90.7%. In fact, Hawaii ranks first in the nation in seatbelt use.
Seatbelts undoubtedly save lives. Still, a few Hawaii drivers are reluctant to use them. Will that affect their claim should they get in an accident? Our Honolulu car accident lawyers explain.
Understanding Hawaii Seat Belt Laws
Seatbelts are mandatory in Hawaii. Anyone riding in a vehicle must wear a seatbelt. Drivers and passengers in the front and back seats must wear a seatbelt while a vehicle is in motion.
What is the Hawaii seatbelt law?
H.R.S. § 291-11.6 is Hawaii’s seat belt law.
What does the Hawaii seat belt law require?
Hawaii’s seat belt law says:
- Unless an exception applies, everyone must wear a seat belt in a vehicle
- Seatbelts are required in the front or back seat
- All ages must wear a seat belt, except that children under 10 are also subject to Hawaii car seat laws, found in Hawaii Revised Statutes § 291-11.5
- A driver may not operate a motor vehicle lawfully unless everyone in the vehicle is wearing their seatbelt
- There are exceptions for emergency responders, school buses, mass transit vehicles and bona fide, metered taxi drivers who are transporting passengers
- It is not a violation if the vehicle isn’t required to have seatbelts under federal motor vehicle safety standards, unless the vehicle has them anyways
What if there aren’t enough seatbelts for everyone in the vehicle?
It’s okay to not wear a seatbelt if an unrestrained person is in a vehicle with more people than there are seat belts available, based on original installation or the number currently available, whichever is greater. In other words, it’s not a defense that the seatbelt is merely out of reach or broken. However, if all the seatbelts are in use and the vehicle still doesn’t have enough for all the occupants, a person is not responsible for wearing their seatbelt.
What if I have a medical condition that prevents me from wearing a seatbelt?
It is not a violation of Hawaii law to decline to wear a seatbelt because of a medical condition if a doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse certifies the condition and that it prevents wearing a seatbelt.
What is the penalty for failing to wear a seatbelt in Hawaii?
A person who violates Hawaii’s seatbelt law faces a fine and surcharges for special injury funds. There are no license points, because Hawaii doesn’t use a license point system. You may receive a fine for each unrestrained person in the vehicle.
Is Hawaii’s seat belt law constitutional?
The Hawaii courts ruled that the state seat belt law is constitutional in State v. French, 77 Haw. 222 (1994). The court said that the right to interstate travel is a fundamental constitutional right. However, the safety objectives of the Hawaii state seatbelt law are reasonable. The state has the police power to regulate the use of motor vehicles including requiring seatbelt use.
Can you wear your seatbelt tucked under your arm?
No. You must wear the seatbelt in the way it is intended by the manufacturer, with the shoulder belt stretching across the chest. In State v. Ribbel, 111 Haw. 426 (2006), the court said that the purpose of the seat belt law is to prevent injury and death. They said that it doesn’t make sense to allow use in an ineffective way given the spirit and plain language of the law. A person is in violation of the seatbelt law when they fail to wear their seatbelt properly.
Car Accidents Involving Seatbelt Non-Use in Hawaii
For as long as seatbelt use remains under 100%, some accidents will involve individuals who are not wearing a seatbelt. That creates the question of whether Hawaii recognizes the seatbelt defense. In other words – Is a car accident victim’s claim to compensation reduced because they failed to wear a seatbelt?
How does failing to wear a seatbelt impact a car accident injury claim in Hawaii?
Failing to wear a seatbelt is unlikely to impact a car accident injury claim in Hawaii.
Although the law is not definitively settled, there is legal authority suggesting that failing to wear a seatbelt is not comparative negligence. Neither is it grounds to reduce a victim’s damages.
Hawaii law for car accident claims where someone wasn’t wearing a seatbelt
As of this writing, there is no Hawaii case law that directly addresses seatbelt non-use in the context of a car accident personal injury compensation claim. However, the Hawaii seatbelt statute references the rights of citizens in personal injury actions. There is also a case that rejects the seatbelt defense in dicta.
Hawaii’s seatbelt law, H.R.S. §291-11.6(d), says that it doesn’t change existing laws or procedures for civil personal injury car accident actions. The law says that the same car accident laws apply that applied before there was a seat belt law. The court can’t impose a requirement in an injury case based on the statute alone.
Kealoha v. City of Hawaii, 74 Haw. 308 (1993) was a case involving nonuse of a motorcycle helmet in an accident compensation claim. The court said that there is no common-law duty to wear a motorcycle helmet. For that reason, they said, non-use of a helmet is irrelevant in an accident claim.
Although the case related to motorcycle helmet use, the court went on to say that evidence of seatbelt use isn’t relevant to a car accident claim because there is no duty to wear a seatbelt at common law.
Finally, attempts to address seatbelt non-use in reference to car accident claims have failed in the Hawaii legislature. In 2008, House Bill 3051 and Senate Bill 2973 attempted to allow evidence of seatbelt nonuse in personal injury claims. However, the measures failed to become law.
Lawyers for Car Accidents Involving Seatbelt Non-Use
Have you been in a car accident? Did the car accident involve non-use of a seatbelt? At Recovery Law Center, we seek the maximum compensation for the people that we are privileged to represent. We are committed to fighting for the rights of injured Hawaiians.
Contact us today to discuss your case.