Taking off in your RV with the entire family is the classic American vacation. However, you probably don’t want to look up the laws for every single state as you travel. I have compiled all the information I can find into this handy chart.
Some states only require the driver and any other adults in the front seat to be buckled in, while others require everybody in the vehicle to have a seatbelt or restraint. Others require that children falling into a certain age range to be restrained. Below you will find which category each state falls into.
|States||Front Seats Only||All Passengers||Restrained Age|
|Arizona||x||5 – 15|
|Connecticut||x||4 – 16|
|Florida||x||6 – 17|
|Georgia||x||6 – 17|
|Hawaii||x||4 – 17|
|Illinois||x||8 – 15|
|Indiana||x||4 – 11|
|Kansas||x||4 – 14|
|Louisiana||x||6 – 15|
|Michigan||x||4 – 15|
|Minnesota||x||4 – 10|
|Mississippi||x||4 – 10|
|Missouri||x||4 – 15|
|Nebraska||x||4 – 18|
|New Hampshire||No seatbelt law||0 – 18|
|New Jersey||x||8 – 17|
|New York||x||0 – 15|
|North Carolina||x||0 – 15|
|North Dakota||x||7 – 17|
|Oklahoma||x||6 – 12|
|Pennsylvania||x||8 – 17|
|South Dakota||x||0 – 18|
|Tennessee||x||0 – 16|
|Texas||x||0 – 17|
|Virginia||x||0 – 16|
|West Virginia||x||0 – 17|
|Wisconsin||x||4 – 15|
Front seat only
If a state is “Front Seat only”, then that means only those that are in the front two seats are required to have a seatbelt. Of course, you still need to follow the seatbelt laws for minors.
This means that every single person inside of the moving vehicle needs to be properly strapped in. Pretty simple.
The part of the table referring to “restrained age” is the age in which a person is required to have a seatbelt regardless of where their seat is located in the vehicle. This is really common, and the reason the ranges don’t always start at zero is that most states have laws that require smaller children to have car seats.
Here is a great printout for your RV:
Can I be pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt?
Often when talking about laws like this, people wonder if they can still get away with it. State legislature varies a lot, but all the states fall into 2 separate categories
Primary vs. Secondary Enforcement
In states that have laws that cause them to fall under the “Primary enforcement” category, police can pull you over if they see you breaking the seatbelt law. Many states that fall under secondary enforcement allow primary enforcement of Child safety restraint laws. Meaning, even if you are in a state that you cannot be pulled over for not having a seat-belt, you can be if your child is not restrained in the backseat.
Secondary enforcement, of course, means that it is still against the law, but is not something that you can be pulled over for. If you were pulled over for speeding, for example, the police officer could also fine you for not wearing a seatbelt. If you are a really cautious driver, you can probably get away with not wearing a seatbelt in states that have secondary seatbelt laws.
Here is the list of states that have “Secondary Enforcement” laws:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
New Hampshire has no seatbelt laws except for minors.
Can people ride in a towed vehicle?
This varies greatly state to state, but the information can be found fairly easily with a quick google search
In most states, it is illegal to have passengers in a trailer, but some states allow it if they are able to communicate with the driver. Do some research, and plan for safety.
Here is a list of states that allow passengers inside of fifth wheels:
- New York
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Some states have more specific laws than just a yes or no, such as these states that require communication between the passengers and the driver for towed vehicles.
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
Car Seat Laws
Most states have a law about forcing children to remain in a car seat until a certain age.
An RV is no exception to this law, and therefore it is important for you to have one. The specific age and weight requirements for car seats vary from state to state, and can get pretty complicated. After reviewing each state’s guidelines, I have come up with a general guideline that will help you to meet most of the state laws pertaining to a “Child Safety Seat”.
Use a Car Seat if:
- Your child is under 8 years of age
- Weighs less than 80 pounds
- Is shorter than 57 inches
If you are a parent of a child that is really young, you probably have a car seat that fits them anyway, and you should bring it with you on any RV trip you are going on.
I really don’t think an officer is going to ticket you if you are following at least one state law
What is considered a seat belt?
Seat belts are restraints that are put into place to safely dispel the inertia of a passenger. The law is pretty vague when it comes to the actual consumer, but very specific for car manufacturers. The legislature for RV’s is vague as well. RV seatbelts are not required to meet the same specifications as a normal vehicle, except in the front two seats.
The ‘Seat belt’ is just a fancy way to say tie-downs. You are literally tying your passengers down! When I am driving, I love having all of my passengers isolated and restrained, especially when they are on the younger side.
Seatbelts are proven to save lives when you get into an accident, that isn’t really in question.
If you are a perfect driver, and you are driving on a completely empty back road going at a speed that is well below the speed limit, you might wonder if seat belts are really that necessary.
In a state that seatbelts are not required for passengers, it is completely left up to you. If I can give my two cents, I would say that there are more benefits to seatbelts than those that occur during a crash.
Seatbelts on passengers are a great way to prevent those in the back from distracting the driver. I can imagine trying to drive with my little ones running around and playing behind me. They might really distract you, causing an accident. There is a lot more space in an RV for people to move around, and therefore a lot more potential for action. You need to do all you can to prevent distractions that affect the driver.
Who is responsible for people following seatbelt laws?
The person that is driving the RV is the one that holds all the responsibility for passengers.
That means that if somebody doesn’t want to follow the law, you should pull this classic quote out of your back pocket:
I will stop this car right now unless you put on your seatbelt!-My Mother
Nobody wants to be the buzzkill, so this is completely up to you. Don’t be a pushover by letting people beg their way out of seatbelts. If you want seat belts worn, don’t settle for less. If you don’t care what happens, then just make sure people wear seat belts when there are bad conditions or high speeds. Unless you really don’t care, then you shouldn’t be reading this article!
Get your passengers to understand
Whether you are the parent of a rowdy bunch of kids, or you are the captain of a group of friends embarking on an RV journey, it is important that everybody is on the same page about laws.
If you start your trip without setting some ground rules for your passengers, there is bound to be some fighting. If you plan on following the laws, then make sure that everybody knows and understands what the laws are so that they can follow them. Lucky for you I have the table above that has all of the 50 states laws laid out for you! The best thing you can do is download the table and print it off so that you can post it somewhere. (hit the download Icon up above)
If you leave without all this information, there is going to be mixed feelings when the rules change all of the sudden just because you crossed a state border, so make sure and establish expectations.
If everybody understands the rules before climbing aboard your RV, they will be more willing to follow them.
Can I add seatbelts?
This is a very controversial topic.
Most motorhome companies don’t even have an industry-standard regarding seatbelts other than those in the front, and therefore some of your seatbelts might not be safe, to begin with.
Plenty of people have done this, but you just don’t have the means of testing something to see if it is safe. You might end up doing more harm than good.
The issue of adding seat belts is that of seating.
Many Motorhomes lack strong enough seating for a crash. In the event of a collision, most motorhome seats that you could attach a seatbelt to would fail, meaning it would collapse or even detach from the floor. If you are confident that the seating will not collapse, then you could attach a seatbelt and probably be fine, especially if you are going to put a car seat there anyway. Here is a crash test that shows a seat collapsing:
It is really bad practice to mount a seatbelt in seats that run parallel to the vehicle, meaning the passenger would be facing the side instead of the front or back. In a collision, a seatbelt placed in this manner would severely injure the passenger.
That being said, you still could put a seatbelt on any seat in your motorhome and a police officer probably wouldn’t read into it far enough to ticket you.
Seat belts are pretty cheap, and installing them isn’t too hard.
Ensure that you are bolting your seatbelts to a spot that will hold in the event of an accident.
Some states have free inspectors that will check your seatbelts for safety, and will even give it certifications
My Motorhome has more beds then seat belts, what do I do?
Many people with motorhomes have this dilemma, and its probably the source of the debate about seat belts. You generally buy a motorhome that can sleep everybody that will be going, and then assume there will be enough seats. I am not sure what motorhome manufacturers are thinking, but they rarely match up.
They expect that there will be another car following the RV around, but that kind of eliminates the point of the RV.
What are my options if I don’t have enough seatbelts?
- Install seatbelts in the safest spots
- Stick to states that don’t require passengers in the back to be restrained
- Draw the curtains and drive cautiously so that you won’t get pulled over
- Have a second vehicle
- Bring fewer people
- Find some other system to strap your passengers in, such as this harness set.
I think we all know what the more responsible things are on this list, and you don’t need anybody telling you what’s right or wrong. Do what you feel comfortable with in terms of risk. Some people think that getting in an accident in their motorhome would be dead anyway, so that’s up to you.
Why don’t buses need seat belts?
A bus is very different than a motorhome, and those differences are all designed for the safety of the passengers. Here are the differences and why they make a difference:
School buses are fitted with a lot of densely packed and padded chairs. In the event of a collision, the passenger’s inertia would push them into the padded seat in front of them. The padded seat acts as a sort of airbag.
In an RV, there are tables, cabinets, and appliances that you would run into in the event of a collision.
In a loaded school bus, the passengers are seated high off the ground. In the event of a T-bone type impact, the car that impacts from the side would, for the most part, hit the bus below where the passengers are seated.
Most RVs are the height of a normal vehicle, and therefore do not have that same safety.
The structure of a bus is designed to withstand a much more impact than an RV that is built to keep MPG as low as possible. A bus is designed for a large crumple zone in the front, and to not have any give in the area for passengers.
Modified Bus RVs
Some people have a motorhome that is a converted bus, and the specifics on seatbelts really depend on how heavy your modifications are. My uncle modified a bus into an RV and he never needed seatbelts because several of the seats were still intact, but if you remove the seats you may need seatbelts. If you are a modified bus owner, you will need to take a dive into your local state laws to find out if you need seat belts in your particular rig.
That being said, the driver always needs a seat belt, bus or not.
What you should be worried about
Let’s say you don’t plan on securing your passengers in the back seat for one reason or another. What is the best way to be safe?
The mortality rate for people getting thrown from a vehicle is 79%, so try to sit your passengers down in a place where they won’t get thrown through a window.
A common problem in RV accidents is that of debris falling on people. Things like refrigerators, cabinets, and other things that could cause harm need to be tied down.
Being seated is going to be the safest bet. Try not to move around too much.
Can I stand, go to the bathroom, sleep in a bed, or cook while the RV is moving?
This is a very hot topic among RV dwellers, and everybody has their own opinion.
Is it legal? If you are in a state where the passengers of a vehicle don’t need to be buckled, then yes. Otherwise, you are not allowed to move around an RV.
It especially risky because its a surefire way to tell a police officer that you are not seat belted if you are standing up making a sandwich.
Plenty of people are injured from doing this, not even in accidents. Just be wise and only stand up if you are on a straight stretch of road. Communicate with the driver that you are standing up, and they will let you know if they see any road hazards.
If you plan on standing up in your RV a lot, I recommend adding plenty of straps on the walls for handholds. Not that they will hold up in an accident, but it helps you not to fall and hit your head on a counter.
Can you take a nap in a bed while the RV is moving? This is risky but completely legal in a state that doesn’t require seatbelts for passengers. If you have a choice, sleep in a bed that has a wall at the end. The more padding the better.