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Seat Belt History, the Law and Seat Belt Fines Explained

10th October 2016

The history of seatbelts is fascinating, global and continues to change as advances in technology become available, mainstream and cost effective. Here's a bit of seatbelt history:

1930's - American doctors began to fit lap-belts in their own vehicles and start to pressure manufacturers to fit them in new vehicles.

1959 - Sweden's Volvo introduced a 3-point belt in the front of their vehicles.

1962 - A Which survey advocated the wearing of seat-belts in Britain because they would result in a reduction in death and serious injury by 60%

1967/68 - Great Britain introduced the 3-point belt in the front of all new vehicles which was followed by a decade of "missed opportunities" for Parliament to introduce the compulsory wearing of seatbelts. A number of Parliamentarians from John Gilbert, William Rogers, Neil Carmichael and finally Lord Nugent were actively engaged in driving seatbelt change.

1983 - The law was changed so the driver and front seat passenger had to wear seatbelts.

1989 - It became compulsory for children aged 14 and under to wear a seatbelt in the rear.

1991 - It became compulsory for all adults to wear a seatbelt in the back of a car.

In a road traffic accident you are nearly twice as likely to die if you are not wearing a correctly fitted seatbelt.

Whilst most drivers and passengers in the UK do wear their seatbelts, people in their late teens and early thirties are more likely not to wear a seat belt and also have the highest accident rates. This combined with evidence that shows that drivers and passengers are less likely to wear seatbelts on shorter more familiar routes means the message on the wearing of seatbelts needs to be continuously made.

Overall, the campaigns run by the UK Government seem to be effective. A survey in 2009 concluded that 95% of drivers wore their seatbelts, 96% of front seat passengers did too. In respect of rear seat passengers the usage dropped to around 89% and other vehicles it was as low as 69%.

It is compulsory, save in exceptional circumstances, to wear a seat belt in the United Kingdom.

If you fail to do so you are breaking the law and could face on-the-spot fines of £100, or if prosecuted this could elevate to £500.

The exemptions to wearing seat belts are often misunderstood and often misquoted, so for the sake of completeness they are:

  • Reversing or supervising a reversing learner driver
  • Emergency service vehicles
  • Taxi driver whilst "plying for hire" or carrying passengers
  • Trade vehicle passenger who is investigating a fault
  • Driver of goods a vehicle on deliveries travelling no more than 50 metres between stops
  • Medical exemption supported by a Certificate of Exemption from Compulsory Seat Belt Wearing.

These rules apply even if you are pregnant or disabled, in order to be exempt you must have the Medical Exemption Certificate, otherwise you are breaking the law.

Another misunderstanding relates to those vehicles that don't have seatbelts such as classic cars. It is important to note that in vehicles manufactured without seatbelts, children under 3 years of age are not allowed to be carried as passengers and children over 3 years of age can only travel in the back seat.

There are a range of rules applying to children and child car seat usage, great guidance can be gleaned from www.childcarseats.org.uk, supported by RoSPA and more fantastic information and detail can be read at www.rospa.com.

The Government, over many years, have run continuous campaigns on the wearing of seatbelts, some of the most powerful messaging and imagery can be seen on www.think.direct.gove.uk/seat-belts. The early "Clunk Click" campaigns were followed by "Elephant", "Julie", "Three Strikes" and the "Belt-Up" campaigns and it is clear that successive Governments see this as a continuous education programme.

Alternative Option to Spot-Fines and Prosecution

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has created a scheme called Your Belt/Your Life scheme which is internet based, at nominal cost, offered as an alternative to the spot-fine and prosecution options with the aim of influencing and changing the behaviour of the offenders.

Finally a review in 2013 concluded that seatbelts were highly effective, education and enforcement messaging increased seatbelt usage and reduced injuries. For full details see the Road Safety Observatory Seat Belts Key Facts.

Use that seatbelt!

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