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Are Uber passengers exempt from CA seat belt law?

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I was a passenger in an Uber car that was struck head-on by an SUV. I messed up my knee when it hit the back of the seat in front of me. I wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Will that be used against me by the insurance company? - TB, California


Though California law requires that all occupants of a vehicle wear seatbelts, taxi passengers are exempt from this law. Under the California vehicle code, “vehicles for hire,” (i.e., Uber, Lyft, Sidecar) are considered taxis, thus there is no seat belt requirement for Uber passengers in California.

So the insurance company for the at-fault driver (it’s not clear from your question if that’s the Uber driver or the SUV driver) cannot argue that you broke the law by not wearing a seat belt. However, they can argue that had you worn a seat belt, you may not have suffered the injuries you did. They can still use the fact that you weren’t wearing a seat belt against you in order to get a discount on what they must pay you. This is called “comparative negligence.”

If your knee injury is serious (surgery required or you will never completely recover), meaning that you will be demanding a significant amount of money for your injury, then the insurance company for the at-fault driver will likely spend the money to hire a biomechanical expert to fight your claim. In order to convince the jury to award you less money, their expert will contend that wearing a seatbelt would have prevented your injury.

Bottom Line: It’s not against the law for an Uber passenger not to wear a seat belt in California, however, if a seat belt would have prevented the injury, then the insurance company will use the passenger’s failure to wear a seat belt as a defense in order to reduce the amount of money the insurance company must pay the injury victim.

If you have been involved in an Uber car accident, you are welcome to call our office for a free consultation.