Buckle Up and Be Smarter Than the Average Bear

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) promotes seat belt use across the country through its Click It or Ticket marketing campaign. This program seeks to increase seat belt use rates nationwide both through educational means and enforcement measures to reduce unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant fatalities.

California has one of the higher rates of seat belt use in the nation. With all the out-of-town guests descending on the Golden State during the holiday season, I am not entirely surprised that some visitors may be unfamiliar with our state’s seat belt laws. For example, I recently saw Yogi Bear and his sidekick Boo-Boo cruising down the streets of San José while perched on the trunk of a moving car. Was Yogi Bear serving as a poor role model for his young fans or does some section of the California Vehicle Code excuse Yogi Bear’s oversight in this instance?

The California Motor Vehicle Safety Act sets forth the state’s seat belt use law. California Vehicle Code Section 27315(d) prohibits a driver from operating “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.” California Vehicle Code Section 27360.5 covers children between six and less than 16 years of age, while California Vehicle Code Section 27360 covers children under six years of age. At first glance, the reference to a highway may appear to excuse Yogi Bear from living recklessly. However, the term highway, as used in the vehicle code, refers to more than the common understanding of a highway. California Vehicle Code Section 360 defines a highway as a publicly-maintained way or place used for vehicular travel and explicitly states that the term highway includes a street.

So, where does this leave Yogi Bear? His final fallback is the parade exemption found at California Vehicle Code Section 23116. That section allows persons to ride “in the back of a truck or flatbed motortruck” if they are being “transported in a parade that is supervised by a law enforcement agency and the speed of the truck while in the parade does not exceed eight miles per hour.” Unfortunately, while Yogi Bear was in a parade, he was not riding in the back of truck or flatbed motortruck. So, I don’t think Yogi Bear was acting smarter than the average bear by not buckling up. Other states, including Indiana, Oklahoma, and Florida have laxer regulations regarding seat belt use and riding on the exterior of a vehicle during a parade.