Belt up as Road Safety GB takes a look back at the history of seat belt legislation; with 2018 marking 50 years since it became UK law for cars to have seat belts fitted in the driver’s seat.
Introduced by the Labour government of the time – led by Harold Wilson – the legislation required manufacturers to fit three-point belts in the front outboard positions on all new cars, and retrospectively fitted to all cars registered from 1965 onwards.
Successive Governments proposed, but failed to deliver, further seat belt legislation throughout the 1970s and it wasn’t until 31 January 1983 – 15 years later – that a law requiring all drivers and front seat passengers to wear their seatbelts came into force.
According to the DfT, shortly after this law came into effect, 90% of car drivers and front seat passengers were observed to be wearing seat belts.
The law changed again in 1989, making it a legal requirement for children travelling in the back of cars to wear seat belts, followed by another rule change in 1991 which dictated adult passengers must also wear seat belts in the back of cars.
When seatbelt wearing became compulsory for all rear-seat occupants in 1991, there was an immediate increase from 10% to 40% in observed seat belt wearing rates – according to the DfT.
Under current legislation, drivers caught not wearing a seatbelt face an on-the-spot fine of £100. If prosecuted, the maximum fine is £500. Drivers are also responsible for making sure passengers under the age of 14 years are wearing a seatbelt.
Research referenced in the Road Safety Observatory suggests seatbelts are 50% effective at preventing fatal injuries for drivers, 45% effective at preventing serious injuries and 25% effective at preventing minor injuries.
For front seat passengers, seat belts are 45% effective at preventing fatal injuries or serious injuries, and 20% effective at preventing minor injuries.
According to RoSPA, since it became mandatory to wear a belt in the front seats in 1983, seat belts are estimated to have saved tens of thousands of lives in Great Britain.
Next week we will look at how advertising to persuade people to wear seat belts has changed over the past 50 years.