Under Maryland law, a person normally is not allowed to operate a motor vehicle unless the driver and every occupant under 16 years old are restrained by a seat belt or a child safety seat. MD. Transp. Code section 22-412.3(b). However, under section 22-412.3(h), the failure to use a seat belt cannot be considered as evidence of negligence or contributory negligence in a Maryland car accident case, and a person’s failure to use a seat belt cannot limit the liability of a party or an insurer or diminish recovery for damages. The statute further clarifies that parties, lawyers, and other witnesses are not allowed to make reference to a seat belt during a civil trial involving property damages, personal injury or death—unless the case is based on a defect in the design, installation, manufacturing, supplying, or repair of the seat belt itself.
Seat belts have been required in Maryland since 1997. A seat belt is the best way to protect oneself in a car crash. Seat belts improve a person’s chance of survival by 60 percent. According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, 105 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes on Maryland roads in 2018 while not wearing a seat belt. A survey conducted in 2019 found that the state’s seat belt usage rate was 90.4 percent in 2019. Maryland Department of Transportation has said that “the only acceptable number for seat belts usage is 100 percent.” Car crashes, in general, are the most common cause of death for individuals between the ages of 5 and 24. According to national statistics, seat belt usage is generally lower among teen drivers.
Maryland’s 2019 Roadside Observation Seat Belt Survey consisted of roadside observations of 32,433 cars and trucks across the state. The state survey showed that passengers wore seat belts 93 percent of the time when the driver also wore a seat belt, and that when the driver did not wear a seat belt, only 40 percent of passengers wore seat belts. Maryland’s Department of Transportation is trying to increase the usage of seat belts through a state education campaign. The state launched a campaign entitled “Seat Belts Look Good on You,” which is aimed at drivers aged 16 to 19 who pass the road skills test by offering them a reward of a free “seat belt” necktie or scarf. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the number of deaths and injuries in crashes in the state.