Car seatbelt law: 30 years of saving lives

These days the first thing most of us do when getting behind the wheel of a car is ‘clunk click’ – we stick the seatbelt on. It’s pretty much second nature now. In fact, it’s almost hard to imagine driving without one. And that’s thanks to the legislation introduced almost exactly 30 years ago to the day.

Yes, on 31st January 1983 it became compulsory for car drivers and front seat passengers in the UK to wear a seatbelt.

So a belated happy birthday to the seat belt! Not exactly the most exciting anniversary perhaps, but certainly an important milestone and a good opportunity to reflect on just how important the introduction of the seat belt has been – and continues to be – in saving lives.

1 in 3 risk their lives

To start with, a pretty shocking stat: it’s estimated that around 1 in 3 people killed in vehicles on our roads were not wearing seatbelts – and that half of those would have survived if they’d belted up. Proof that wearing a seatbelt really does dramatically reduce the likelihood of suffering a serious injury (or worse) when in a car accident. That’s not just scaremongering. It’s a matter of scientific fact. For example:

  • If you are involved in a car crash at 30 mph and you’re not wearing a seatbelt, you will be thrown forward with a force of between 30 and 60 times your body weight.
  • Or to look it another way, if you are travelling at 30mph and stop dead, your body will continue to travel forward at that speed until you hit whatever is in your path. That’s usually the windscreen if you’re the driver or front passenger, resulting in horrific (and often fatal) head and facial injuries.
  • Worse still, the laws of physics apply just as much to the passengers in the back seat – and children are no exception. If they aren’t properly belted up or secure in a child seat or baby seat, they will be thrown forward into the back of the seat in front or through the gap between the seats with incredible force. The consequences simply don’t bear thinking about do they?

A fixed penalty and up to a £500 fine

You’d think such hard-to-stomach facts would mean nobody would be foolish enough to set off in a vehicle without a seatbelt on wouldn’t you? Yet incredibly, in Scotland alone, police catch around 27,000 people not ‘belted up’. For these risk-takers, the result is an immediate £60 fixed penalty notice (that’s points on the licence). Although they could be fined anything up to £500 on top.

Plus, as the driver or vehicle owner, you’re responsible for those in the back too. And a £60 fine will apply to each rear seat passenger that’s not belted up too. That and the enormous human cost means it’s just not worth taking the risk. So belt up every time. Better to be safe than sorry.