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Is a Driver Liable for Passenger Injuries When They Don’t Wear a Seatbelt?

Car drivers are responsible for their actions behind the wheel. This means they are liable for injuries caused by distracted driving behaviors, driving while impaired, speeding, and engaging in reckless driving behaviors. They can also be held liable for passenger injuries if the individual isn’t wearing a seat belt. Thus, even if a passenger insists they don’t need to wear the belt, drivers must insist that they do. Drivers can, and should, refuse to operate the vehicle until everyone is belted up.

“Click It or Ticket”

This slogan is burned into the minds of anyone who watched television or took driver’s ed in the past 40 years. State statutes mandate that all drivers and passengers in the front seat must be wearing a seat belt. It also mandates that all passengers under the age of 15 wear a seat belt regardless of their position in the vehicle.

But…I’m in the Back Seat

Passengers within the back seat may complain that they don’t need to wear a seat belt. And, indeed, Colorado laws do not require adult passengers in the back seat to wear a seat belt. But, just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s safe. Most importantly, it doesn’t mean that drivers can’t refuse to transport an individual who refuses to wear their seat belt.

Drivers have every right to insist that passengers wear a seat belt. Further, as with ships and planes, the driver is “in charge” of the vehicle and the people within. Drivers must ensure that there are a sufficient number of seat belts available and that each seat belt is in working condition. Thus, drivers should never attempt to transport more people than they have seat belts.

Contributory Negligence in Colorado

What if a driver insists that a passenger wear a seat belt, and the passenger later removes the seat belt during the journey? Because the driver exercised their duty of care, and the passenger willingly subverted this request, then the driver is not liable for passenger injuries caused in rollovers or other accidents. Under Colorado’s contributory negligence rules, the act of removing the seat belt would make the passenger solely responsible.

Do you have questions about motor vehicle accidents and passenger injuries in Colorado? Contact our team at Sloat, Nicholson & Hoover, P.C. at (303) 447-1144. It is our pleasure to tell you more about the rights and responsibilities of drivers along the Front Range.

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