California’s first seat belt laws took effect January 1, 1986, and required both drivers and passengers to wear seat belts when they ride in a passenger vehicle in California. The California Office of Traffic Safety said the law was enacted to “protect Californians from needless death and injury, and to reduce taxpayer costs resulting from traffic collisions.” The legislation was authored by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and signed in to law by Gov. George Deukmejian in October 1985.

California’s seat belt law exempted older cars that were not fitted with belts as original equipment, but also required auto makers to equip all new cars sold in California with air bags or other automatic restraints beginning in 1989. Governor Deukmejian had reservations about the air bags due to controversy surrounding them at the time, but stated the bill “will lead to the saving of lives.”

Peter K. O’Rourke, who was head of the governor’s Office of Traffic Safety, estimated that in 1985, about 22% of Californians wore a seatbelt, and that if 70% of the California population wore one throughout 1986, traffic fatalities would be reduced by 700 – 1,000 people throughout that year.

Current California seat belt laws are now covered in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and described in section 27315 of the California Motor Vehicle Code. Part of 27315 (d) (1) states: “A person shall not operate a motor vehicle on a highway unless that person and all passengers 16 years of age or over are properly restrained by a safety belt….”