Law changes wanted to crack down on drivers not wearing seat belts

Around a quarter of people killed in car crashes aren’t wearing seatbelts (Picture iStock/Skynesher)

Chances are, every time you get into a car you put your seat belt on. More than nine out of 10 of us do. But the small number of drivers who incredibly don’t buckle up in case they crease their clothes are dramatically increasing their chances of dying in a car crash.

The risks of not belting yourself into a car are revealed in a new report by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) in association with Direct Line. The panel of MPs wants the government to increase the penalties for not wearing safety belts.

The most high-profile victim not properly restrained in a car was Diana, Princess of Wales. But she died in 1997 and road safety campaigners believe drivers need to be reminded of the dangers of driving without seat belts.

How dangerous is not wearing a seat belt?

PACTS claims the most recent study of seat belt effectiveness found that they reduce fatal and non-fatal injuries by 60 per cent among front seat occupants and 44 per cent among rear seat passengers.

Road crash stats emphasise how dangerous it is if you don’t belt yourself in. The latest figures from 2017 in the UK show that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of car occupant fatalities were not wearing a seat belt. That’s 212 people who died in 2017 because they weren’t properly restrained.

Who doesn’t wear seat belts?

Car occupants most likely not to wear a seat belt are young males who are in a car in the early hours of the morning, statistics show. Young men aged 16 to 25 years are three times more likely to be killed in a car while not wearing a safety belt than females of the same age. Drivers aged 26 to 35 were the next most likely fatalities while not buckled up. The most dangerous time for unrestrained drivers was between 2 and 3am, followed by 3 to 4am.

How many people wear seatbelts?

Wearing seatbelts in the front became the law in 1983. That boosted the share of drivers that buckled up from 40 per cent to around 95 per cent. In 1989 it became the law for children in the back to be belted in. Then in 1999, all car passengers had to clunk click every trip. Figures from 2017 suggest that 98.6 per cent of car drivers buckle up; 96.6 per cent of front seat passengers; 97 per cent of children in rear seats and 78.9 per cent of adult rear-seat passengers. Before the law was changed in 1999, only 54 per cent of rear seat passengers strapped themselves into their car.

Of all car occupants, adults sitting in the back are least likely to buckle up (Picture iStock/Pixelfit)

Why don’t people wear seatbelts?

The most popular reason car occupants give for not wearing safety belts is that they’re only driving on a very short journey. Four out of 10 drivers (41 per cent) said this. Slightly more than one in 10 (14 per cent) said they found the restraints uncomfortable. Less than one in 10 (8 per cent) said they didn’t think they should have to buckle up. Astonishingly one in 20 drivers (5 per cent) said they didn’t put a seat belt on because they were driving carefully. The same proportion worry about sartorial elegance ahead of physical safety: they don’t like seat belts because they crease their clothes!

When don’t you have to wear a seat belt?

Delivery drivers with short hops between drops don’t need to wear a seat belt (Picture iStock/Ridofranz)

In some cases, it’s perfectly legal not to wear a safety belt:

  • Drivers who are reversing can unbuckle in order to see better
  • Passengers supervising a learner who is reversing can undo their seatbelt too
  • Occupants of police, fire and rescue services vehicles
  • Goods vehicle drivers travelling no more than 50m between stops
  • Licensed taxi or private hire drivers
  • Anyone medically exempt (as long as they have a Certificate of Exemption).

Penalties for not wearing seat belts

Currently under UK law you can’t get any points on your licence if a police officer stops you and you’re not wearing a seat belt. But they can fine you £100. It is the only penalty where the fine is at the same level as misdemeanours you get licence endorsements for. Since 2012, you can take a retraining course instead of the fine.

Points are recommended

The penalty for not wearing seat belts should be increased to three points to deter drivers from the offence according to PACTS. It claims this would bring not wearing seat belts into line with minor speeding offences, unlawful motorbike pillion riding, failure to obey double white lines or refusing to have an eye test. It felt that a six-point penalty was too extreme as the offence doesn’t endanger other road users. Chairman of PACTS, Barry Sheerman MP said: “I thought this was one road safety issue that we had cracked. Evidently not. It feels fitting that PACTS should be highlighting this fact and proposing solutions.”

4 comments on “Law changes wanted to crack down on drivers not wearing seat belts

  1. dave 01/05/2019 5:14 PM

    Why would you not wear a seat belt when it is to save your life,some times it is better than an air bag.I think the law is not stiff enough what is a hundred pounds to some they just laugh it off, it can also endanger other road users if you suddenly swerve which would throw you to the side and make you swerve the steering by not wearing a belt.

    • John Savill 02/08/2019 8:16 AM

      In Europe car design assumes that a seat belt is being worn, so the airbags are not a powerful or aggressive as those fitted in the USA where the regulations assume you are not wearing a seat belt (FMVSS208)
      Airbags cannot cope with secondary impacts either.

  2. RICHARD STAMPER 03/05/2019 10:34 AM

    Why wouldn’t you wear a seat belt – over the years two friends of mine (both great looking women) have been in accidents where they weren’t wearing a seat belt. One now has a hair lip and the other a deep scar running completely down one side of her face. To me they are still beautiful but I know they both regret not belting up.

  3. Sylvia 08/07/2019 8:52 PM

    How would points work for passenger offenders who may not hold a licence? The driver can’t be held liable for adult passengers who refuse to wear or undo a seatbelt after car has moved off.

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