Seatbelt advertising: a journey through the last 50 years

10.01 | 16 April 2018 | | 2 comments


With 2018 marking 50 years since it became UK law for cars to have seat belts fitted in the driver’s seat, we take a look at how seat-belt advertising has changed over the last half century.

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.

One of the first seatbelt adverts, produced by the Ministry of Transport, was titled ‘It can happen to me’ and encouraged drivers to get into the habit of belting up. The advert carried the message ‘the difference between an ugly smash up, and just a nasty shake up, could be simply the seatbelt habit’.


Into the 1970’s and there was a new slogan – ‘Clunk Click’ – along with a new face in the form of the now deceased and disgraced former DJ and TV presenter, Jimmy Savile.

The well-known slogan was used in successive campaigns to persuade people to belt up. The ads reminded drivers that the first thing they should do after closing the door (Clunk) is fasten their seatbelt (Click).

The ads included graphic sequences of drivers being thrown through the windscreen and, in one Savile-hosted public service announcement, an image of a disfigured woman who survived a collision.

One advert – titled ‘the Clunckers’ – tells the story of a young couple failing to wear seatbelts, resulting in the driver being flung through the windscreen when a collision occurs. The narrator says: “A lot of people have got into a habit whenever they get into a car. But some people haven’t clicked yet – they are the clunckers.”


It is suggested the campaign helped lay the groundwork for compulsory seatbelt use in the front seat of a vehicle, which came into force in January 1983.

Another advert from the time – titled ‘Don’t do it’ – shows a man contemplating jumping off the roof of a building. He turns to the camera and says: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about, taking a short trip around town without wearing a seatbelt can be just as risky.

“If you have a crash at only 30mph, and you don’t have a seatbelt to restrain you, you are liable to go through the windscreen with the same force as if you dived head first through that glass roof 30ft below.”


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 rear seats.

Adverts shifted focus to reflect the new legislation, including the 2007 THINK! advert ‘Julie’.

The advert shows a mother – Julie – taking her two children to school. Julie’s son, sitting in the back seat, is not wearing a seatbelt – and upon crashing, he flies forward, crushing Julie to death. The narrator says: “Like most victims, Julie knew her killer… it was her son.”


Adverts in the 21st century remained graphic in nature; none more so than a post-watershed advert from 2008, showing the devastating effects of a 30mph crash on an unprotected body.

The ‘Three Strikes’ advert tells the story of Richard, who – you guessed it by now – crashes his car. The narrator says: “Richard didn’t want to die but he couldn’t stop himself. The collision with the car didn’t kill him, but he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt – so he continued on his journey. When he hit the inside of his car, that didn’t kill him either.

“But his internal organs carried on travelling until they hit his ribcage and his lungs were punctured and the main artery from his heart was torn – and that’s what killed Richard.”


What are your memories of seatbelt advertising? Join the debate by commenting below.



Comment on this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Report a reader comment

Order by Latest first | Oldest first | Highest rated | Lowest rated

    Whilst the ads are primarily dealing with mitigating the consequences of a collision, at least two of the ads above could also be used to illustrate how a collision can happen if a driver takes their eyes off the road for even a couple of seconds and also by not expecting the unexpected.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

    I was invited to work with the DfT on the Julie campaign in 2007. A very interesting series of meetings and discussions.

    Back in 1997 the campaign was about the weight and therefore the kinetic energy of an unrestrained rear seat passenger where the person morphed into a baby elephant.
    I was lucky enough to borrow the elephant head used in the campaign film ( ) for the West Sussex stand at the South of England show where we had a seatbelt demo sled. The ears flapped and the trunk moved but the one that caught peoples attention was the winking eye., Westminster
    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.