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Seatbelt legislation in the UK

 

Most people in the UK over 40 remember when it wasn’t legally required to wear seat belts in vehicles. In 1983 it became a legal requirement for drivers and passengers to wear seat belts – which was sensible given that statistics show that you’re twice as likely to die in a road collision if you don’t wear a seatbelt.

This one statistic alone should make sure that everyone buckles up on every car journey. However, it’s a sad fact of life that not everyone does.

While many of us are aware that you have to wear a seatbelt by law, but perhaps not the finer details of the law, we have put together this useful guide on seatbelt legislation in the UK.

UK Seatbelt Legislation

By law, you must wear a seat belt in cars and goods vehicles where one is fitted.

There are not many exceptions to this. The driver is liable to prosecution if they or any passengers in the vehicle under 14 years old do not use a seat belt or a child restraint where required.

Children up to 135cms tall must use the appropriate child restraint for their weight (not age) when travelling in the front or back seat of any car, van or goods vehicle. 'Child restraint' means any baby seat, child seat, booster seat or booster cushion.

A child can use an adult belt when they reach 135cm or their 12th birthday, whichever comes first.

In buses and coaches with seat belts fitted, passengers aged 14 years and above must use them. Passengers on vehicles used for public fare-paying passengers on 30mph roads are exempt.

The law for cars, vans and other goods vehicles is summarised in the table below.

Person Front Seat Rear Seat Who is responsible?
Driver Seat belt MUST be worn if fitted N/A Driver
Children under 3 years of age Correct child restraint MUST be used The correct child restraint MUST be used. If one is not available in a taxi, may travel unrestrained. Driver
 Children from 3rd birthday up to 1.35 metres in height (or 12th birthday, whichever they reach first) Correct child restraint MUST be used Correct child restraint MUST be used where seat belts are fitted. MUST use an adult belt if the correct child restraint is not available in a licensed taxi or private hire vehicle, or for reasons of unexpected necessity over a short distance, or if two occupied restraints prevent fitment of a third.  Driver
Children over 1.35 metres (approx 4ft 5ins) in height or 12 or 13 years   Seat belt MUST be worn if available Seat belt MUST be worn if available   Driver
Adult passengers aged 14 and over Seat belt MUST be worn if available Seat belt MUST be worn if available Passenger
       

 

What are the penalties for not wearing a seatbelt?

If you’re caught not wearing a seatbelt in the UK, the on-the-spot fine is usually around £100 with a maximum fine of £500 if you’re prosecuted.

What are the exceptions to not wearing a seatbelt?

• You’re a driver who is reversing or supervising a learner driver who is reversing

• You’re in a vehicle being used for police, fire and rescue services

• You’re a passenger in a trade vehicle and you’re investigating a fault

• You’re driving a goods vehicle on deliveries that are travelling no more than 50 metres between stops

• You’re a licensed taxi driver who is carrying passengers

Are there medical exemptions that make me exempt from wearing a seatbelt?

There are also the following medical reasons which allow you to be exempt from wearing a seat belt.

It’s best to check with your doctor first to confirm that you’re unable to wear a seat belt for medical reasons – if so, a doctor can issue you a ‘Certificate of Exemption from Compulsory Seat Belt Wearing.

If you have one of these certificates you must:

• Keep it in your vehicle

• Show it to the police if you’re pulled over

• Inform your insurance provider

What if my car isn’t fitted with seatbelts?

The majority of cars have seat belts, but in some cases, a vehicle won’t have them fitted. This is generally only the case with classic cars.

The laws regarding cars without seat belts states that no children under 3 are allowed to travel in the vehicle and that children over 3 must sit in the back seats.

The driver and passengers are permitted not to wear a seat belt, but this law only applies if the car was originally made without seat belts.

The law in Northern Ireland

At present, a driver in Northern Ireland may get a fine of £500 and three penalty points for not wearing a seat belt. If you’re carrying a passenger aged under 14 years old without the proper restraint you are also liable for a £500 fine and three penalty points on your licence.

For passengers 14 years old and over, it is their responsibility to make sure that they wear a seat belt if there is one available. As a passenger, you may get a fine of £500 for not wearing a seat belt and can be awarded two penalty points.

Why do I have to wear a seatbelt?

Apart from the fact it could be breaking the law, wearing a seat belt could potentially save your and others’ lives. You should always wear a seat belt regardless of how far you’re going.

If you’re involved in a crash, a seat belt will stop you from being thrown out of your seat. It is equally important to wear a seat belt if sitting in the rear of a vehicle, as being thrown into the seat in front could injure or kill the person in front of you.

Not wearing your seat belt may seem like a minor offence, but the consequences of not wearing one can be devastating. Figures from 2017 show that of the 787 drivers or passengers who died in 2017, 27% were not wearing seat belts.

Yet despite warnings that people are twice as likely to die in a car accident if they do not buckle up, some are still willing to take the risk. It’s possible that some drivers or passengers feel more cocooned these days and feel less at risk due to the latest safety features in vehicles.

As the author of this article, let me explain why it is so important to wear a seat belt. On one winter’s morning, I set off early on my usual journey to the gym before starting work. As I was driving down a country road, my car hit a patch of black ice, which resulted in me having a head-on collision with a van. Thankfully, I was wearing my seat belt, and there were no physical injuries. However, it would have been a completed different matter if I hadn’t worn my seat belt.

Some UK Seat Belt facts

 

  • People are less likely to wear a seat belt when travelling on a short journey.  However, it doesn't matter what distance you drive, seat belts should always be worn
  • Drivers between the ages of 17-34 who have been legally required to wear a seat belt virtually their entire lives have been found to have the lowest seat belt wearing rates
  • In a collision, you're twice as likely to die if you don't wear a seat belt