Articles Tagged ‘seat belt - Brake the road safety charity’

Driver advice: seat belts and child restraints


Drivers can pledge to – make sure everyone in their vehicle is belted upon every journey, and kids smaller than 150cm are in a proper child restraint.

Everyone can pledge to– always belt up, and make sure friends and family do too.

Seat belts

Seat belts are simple to put on and can save your life. They stop you being thrown around the vehicle, or out of it, in a crash. It's estimated by transport researchers that a three-point seat belt halves risk of death in a crash.

SeatbeltAlways wear a seat belt, even on short journeys. Even if you're just driving around the corner, it could still be a life-saver, and it's still the law.

Make sure you have enough three-point seat belts for everyone travelling in your vehicle. Never squeeze extra people in without belts, or sharing the same belt.

Before setting off, make it a habit to check that everyone in your vehicle is belted up. Seat belt use is lower among back seat passengers. An unrestrained back seat passenger is a danger to other people in the vehicle as well as themselves. 

Three-point belts are far safer than lap belts (which only have one strap going across your lap). The shoulder strap on a three-point belt stops your body being flung forward in a crash, which can result in horrific injuries. If you use an older vehicle with a lap belt in a particular seat, don't use that seat.

Head restraints

Make sure everyone's heads and necks are protected by a head restraint. If a head restraint is missing, wobbly, or too low, it won’t protect someone's neck from whiplash injuries that can debilitate or kill. If a seat does not have a head restraint, don't use that seat. 

Head restraints should be adjusted so the top is about level with the top of the person's head and right up against the back of their head, so their head won’t be able to fly backwards in a crash. 

Before setting off, make it a habit to check everyone has their head restraint properly adjusted. 

Child passengers up to 150cm tall 

Drivers are legally responsible for ensuring child passengers are belted up and in a restraint compliant with the law. 

Children up to 150cm tall should be secured in a child restraint suitable for their height and weight. If they are not, they are at far greater risk of serious injury or death in a crash. 

Follow the advice below:

  • Use the appropriate child restraint for a child's size and weight.
  • Use new. A second-hand restraint could be damaged in ways you can’t see.
  • Buy the best seat on the market with the most safety features. Your child's life is priceless.
  • Restraints should carry the United Nations ‘E’ mark or a BS ‘Kitemark’.
  • Rear-facing seats are safer for babies. Do not move them up to their next restraint system until they are too tall or heavy for their rear-facing baby seat.
  • If it’s possible to do so in line with the fitting instructions, fit your child seat in the middle of the rear of your car, furthest away from the exterior.
  • Fit right. Fit your child restraint with care in line with the fitting instructions. If unsure, seek help from the manufacturer or supplier.
  • Sit right. Before every trip, check your child's restraint is still fitted correctly. Take care to ensure that the belt is correctly threaded and snug fitting. 
  • The top of your child’s head should never come above the top of their child seat.
  • If you have an old car with few safety features, change it for a car that has high star ratings for safety. See EuroNCAP for star ratings.
  • Take trains for long journeys and get out and walk for short journeys. Trains are safer, and walking helps save the planet. 


  • Carry someone else’s child unless you are certain they are in a restraint that is correct for their height and weight and properly fitted.
  • Allow your child to be carried in someone else’s vehicle unless they are in a restraint appropriate for their size and weight and properly fitted.
  • Carry extra kids with no restraints or seat belts, even on short journeys.
  • Hold a baby or child; they will fly out of your hands in a crash.
  • Put a baby or child inside your own seat belt with you - they will be crushed by the weight of your body in a crash.

If a child is over 150cm and is able to do up their own seat belt, you still have the responsibility for checking they have done so correctly, and the seatbelt is tight. Explain to children they mustn’t fiddle with or undo seat belts, and the reasons why.

Children under 150cm on school trips

If you have a child under 150cm going on a school or pre-school trip by coach or minibus, will they be appropriately restrained? Talk to your child's teacher and ask to see their transport safety policy. Ensure it requires the school or pre-school to hire a modern vehicle with three point seat belts and that your child will be securely fitted in the correct child restraint for their height and weight (either your own seat or one supplied by the transport company). 

pregnantdiagramIf using your own child restraint, you will need to check your child restraint is appropriate to fit in the vehicle being used.

Do not allow your child to travel on an old coach with only lap belts, or in someone else's car with inadequate restraints.

Direct teachers to our page trips in vehicles, which has guidance for them.

Wearing a seat belt during pregnancy

It’s important to continue wearing a seatbelt while pregnant. You should wear the lap part of the seat belt under your bump (see our diagram, right). Consider public transport when you can. You are far less likely to be involved in a crash on a train or bus. Walking is also a great exercise during pregnancy; leave the car at home for short journeys.

Page updated December 2017


Half of young drivers admit to being in a car with someone not belted up

News from Brake
Thursday 31 January 2019
Half of drivers aged 18-24 admit to being in a car with someone not belted up in the past year, according to new research by Brake, the road safety charity. Young drivers are nearly three times more likely to be in a car with someone who isn’t belted up compared to all drivers and more than eight times more likely than drivers over 65. These findings come from a survey of 2,000 drivers, commissioned by Brake and launched on the anniversary of seat belt wearing first being made mandatory in the UK, 36 years ago today (31 January 1983).
These findings follow on from statistics released by the Department for Transport last year, which showed that 27% of the 787 car occupants who died in 2017 were not wearing seat belts. That equals 212 lives which potentially could have been saved if a seat belt was being used, more than four every week. Most concerning of all, these statistics showed a 7-percentage point rise on 2016 (20%), indicating that non-seat belt use is increasing.
Brake volunteer, Jeremy Williamson, from the Wirral, has first-hand experience of the devastation that can be caused by not wearing a seat belt. 20 years ago, four of his friends were involved in a car crash. Tragically, three of his friends were not wearing seat belts and were all killed, whilst the one car occupant who did wear a seat belt survived. Tragedy struck Jeremy once again recently, when his brother was killed in a car crash after crashing into a tree on a rural road – he too, was not wearing a seat belt. Following these devastating losses, Jeremy has put his energies into running his own business, educating young drivers on key road safety messages.  
Brake believes that the answer to the growing problem of non-seat belt use lies in the safe system approach to our roads, where vehicles are designed to eliminate risk through technology. European legislation is currently being passed which will make seat belt reminder systems for all seats in new cars mandatory from later this year. This move was backed by 8 in 10 drivers in the survey, who stated that seat belt reminders should be required to be fitted for all seats in a car. Notably, younger drivers were less likely to support seat belt reminders in all seats, compared to older drivers, further indicating a potential lack of understanding of the importance of the seat belt in the younger generations.
Commenting, Josh Harris, director of campaigns for Brake said:
“Seat belt wearing became compulsory almost 40 years ago and so it comes as a real shock to hear half of young drivers admit they’ve been in a car with someone not belted up in the past year. We know seat belts save lives and yet there are still four people a week who needlessly die on our roads when not belted up.
“Soon we will see seat belt reminders made mandatory on all seats in new cars - a great step forward. Unfortunately, we’ve found that young people are most exposed to this issue and they are far less likely to be purchasing new vehicles. We need the government to target safety campaigns at the younger generations to make sure they hear loud and clear that seat belts save lives. Ultimately every death on the road is preventable but a death of someone not wearing a seat belt could so easily be avoided.”
Commenting, Brake Volunteer Jeremy Williamson said:
“I would not want anyone to go through the terrible experiences that I have - words can’t describe what it was like to attend my best friends’ funerals, on consecutive days, nor the complete devastation of losing your brother in a road crash.
“No one should die on our roads, certainly not because they weren’t wearing a seat belt, and that is why I work so hard now to educate young drivers. My friends and my brother would likely still be here if they had been wearing their seat belts, so I can’t stress enough how important it is to buckle up before you set off."
Notes to editors:
  • 49% of young drivers (18-24) have travelled in a car in which someone wasn’t wearing a seat belt, in the past year, according to Brake’s survey of drivers.
  • Wearing seat belts in front seats of a car became mandatory on 31 January 1983. Wearing seat belts in the back seats of a car became mandatory in 1991.
  • Figure for drivers killed whilst not wearing a seat belt are from table RAS 41001, Table RAS41001, Strategic Framework for Road Safety outcome indicators, Great Britain, annual from 2005, Department for Transport, 2018.
  • The new seat belt reminder regulations, due to come into force in September 2019, are being set by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and will see front seats using occupant detection systems with audible warnings and rear seats utilising audible warnings when the belt is unclipped while the car is in motion
  • The Brake survey of 2,000 drivers highlighted a clear trend: the younger the driver, the more likely they were to have been in a car with someone not wearing a seat belt in the past year (see Fig. 1)
  • Data from Brake survey of 2,010 drivers, conducted by Surveygoo in 2018:
  1. In the past year, have you travelled in a car in which someone (driver or passenger) hasn’t worn a seatbelt?

Cell content:
Non-weighted number


Age Band








No. of cases









17.51 %

48.72 %

43.03 %

23.26 %

12.76 %

7.77 %

5.72 %









80.05 %

46.15 %

52.87 %

72.21 %

85.71 %

91.00 %

92.91 %








I don't know

2.44 %

5.13 %

4.10 %

4.53 %

1.53 %

1.23 %

1.37 %








  1. Do you think seatbelt reminders should be fitted?

Cell content:
Non-weighted number


Age Band








No. of cases








For the driver seat only

7.91 %

24.79 %

23.36 %

10.57 %

3.83 %

2.66 %

2.29 %








For the driver and front passenger seat only

13.23 %

17.09 %

21.31 %

19.64 %

11.99 %

11.04 %

6.41 %








For all seats in the car

78.86 %

58.12 %

55.33 %

69.79 %

84.18 %

86.30 %

91.30 %








Hiring a vehicle with 3 point seat belts

Always hire a vehicle that is modern and has 3-point seat belts that are retractable, undamaged, and work, and provide space for the correct fitting of child restraints (seats and booster seats). In other words, seat belts which are just like those in a modern car.

It is important that you explain to the vehicle provider, when booking, that you will not accept any vehicle that has seat belts that are jammed, don’t retract, or which are frayed or look in any other way damaged: it would be wise to put this in writing. When your vehicle arrives you should check all seat belts.

Do NOT hire a vehicle that has no seat belts or only lap belts. Lap belts are wholly inadequate. Small children are extremely delicate and their bodies are not fully formed. Restrained by only a lap belt, in a serious crash a small child’s body would bend to form a U shape and then whiplash backwards and forwards. These movements can cause death, tetraplegia and critical injuries to internal organs. Coaches and minibuses with 3 point belts are widely available, so there is no excuse for using a vehicle with only lap belts. (In addition, many child seats cannot be fitted only with a lap belt.)

There is research evidence that using a three point belt and child seat reduces the risk of injury by 57% compared with using a lap belt on a child. The below two links take you to research demonstrating this:

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety research on child restraints with the University of Philidelphia 

National Transport Safety Board study on performance of child restraints

Make the Brake Pledge

Brake's vision is a world where people can get around in ways that are safe, green, healthy and fair. 

To help us get there, everyone can sign our Pledge, whether you are a driver or not. The Pledge calls for people to do everything they can to protect themselves and the people around them. Scroll down to read the Pledge and make the Pledge at the bottom of this page.



Drivers – I'll stay under limits, and slow down to 20mph where people live, work and play. I'll slow down on rural roads to protect people on foot, bicycles, motorcycles and horses as well as in other vehicles. I will avoid overtaking and take care to look twice at junctions. I will drive even more slowly in bad weather.
Everyone – I'll speak out for slowing down and help drivers understand that the slower they drive, the more chance they have of avoiding a crash and saving a life.


Drivers – I'll never drive after drinking any alcohol or drugs – not a drop, not a drag.
Everyone - I'll plan ahead to make sure I, and anyone I'm with, can get home safely and I'll never get a lift with drink/drug drivers. I'll speak out if someone's about to drive on drink or drugs.


Drivers – I'll make sure everyone in my vehicle is belted up on every journey, and kids smaller than 150cm are in a proper child restraint. I'll choose the safest vehicle I can and ensure it's maintained.
Everyone – I'll belt up on every journey, and make sure friends and family do too.


Drivers – I'll never take or make calls, read or type when driving. I'll put communication devices out of reach, and stay focused.
Everyone – I'll never chat on the phone to someone else who's driving.


Drivers – I'll stay focussed on safe driving. I'll take regular breaks and never drive if I'm tired, stressed or on medication that affects driving. I'll get my eyes tested every two years and wear glasses or lenses at the wheel if I need them.
Everyone – I'll look out for friends and loved ones by ensuring they only drive if they're fit for it, and rest if they're tired.


Everyone – I'll minimise the amount I drive, or not drive at all. I'll get about by walking, cycling or public transport as much as I can, for road safety, the environment and my health.

Make your pledge

Fill out my online form.


Tweet your selfies to #RoadSafetyWeek or #brakepledge so we can admire your photos!









Get others to make the Pledge by printing off or emailing a Pledge form.
Read Brake’s advice for drivers and factsheets on road safety
If you drive for work, find out how company drivers can work with Brake

Public transport safety

sustainablethumbtextPublic transport is one of the safest and most sustainable ways to travel. Bus or coach travel in Britain resulted in 0.2 deaths per billion km over the last decade, and rail travel effectively zero (as deaths from rail travel are so rare they do not show up in this measurement). By comparison, car travel kills 1.3 passengers, and 2.3 drivers, per billion km [1].

However, it is still important to look out for your own safety when using public transport. This is particularly important for bus and coach passengers – buses and coaches may be safer than other vehicles, but they are still operating in an unpredictable environment, on public roads. This page looks at some of the risks involved in public transport use and how these can be reduced.

Learn more:Read our fact page on sustainable and active travel, and the benefits of increasing this.

Seat belts

Seat belts keep you in your seat if you are involved in a crash, and massively reduce the chance of serious injury and death. In a crash, you are twice as likely to die if you are not wearing a seat belt [2]. If the vehicle you are in has seat belts fitted, you are required by law to use them [3]. Three-point seat belts offer far greater protection than lap belts, particularly for children [4].

In the UK, all coaches and minibuses registered on or after 1 October 2001 must have forward-facing or rearward-facing seat belts fitted. Older coaches and minibuses that are transporting three or more children must have a forward-facing seat belt, either three-point or a lap belt, fitted for each child [5].

In the UK, passengers aged 14 and over are personally responsible for belting up. The driver is legally responsible for ensuring that younger children are using seat belts or appropriate child restraints. However, as the driver needs to concentrate on the road, Brake advises that a second adult travels in coaches carrying children and takes responsibility for supervising seat belt use, so the driver is not distracted.

Learn more: Read our fact page on seat belts and crash protection.
Take action:Make the Brake Pledge to belt up on every journey, and make sure everyone else in the vehicle does too.

Buses without seat belts

Buses designed for urban use with standing passengers are not required to have seat belts [6]. It is therefore vital that passengers take care on these vehicles. Always sit if a seat is available; if no seats are available, make sure you can reach a hand rail to hold on to. If standing, keep a safe distance from the doors and the driver, and do not stand on the top deck or stairs on double-deckers. Never lean on the doors or emergency exits as this could cause them to open while the vehicle is moving. When reaching your stop, stay seated until the bus has come to a halt.

Hiring minibuses and coaches

Some coaches and minibuses are only fitted with lap belts, which are not as safe. If hiring a coach or minibus, insist on one with three point belts.

If carrying children under 150cm tall, also insist on a vehicle that has seats that are appropriate to use with child seats fitted. Parents should be advised to bring their child’s child seat and ‘fit and sit’ their child in the seat before the journey. Children are only safe in vehicles if they are in a child restraint for their size and weight, appropriately fitted using the seat belt.

Learn more: Read our advice for schools on safe school trips.
Learn more: Read our fact page on child restraints.

School bus safety

If children are travelling to school on public buses, they should be taught to keep themselves safe by queuing sensibly for the bus, well back on the pavement, and staying in their seats or well back from doors and stairs if they have to stand. They should be taught to respect the driver and other passengers by behaving sensibly, keeping conversations quiet and calm, and not horsing around or otherwise distracting the driver.

If your child’s school has or hires minibuses or coaches to transport pupils to and from school or on school trips, ask to see their specifications for hiring or purchasing vehicles. Insist that the school uses modern vehicles with three-point seat belts fitted, and that they have adequate checks in place for maintaining and repairing these vehicles. See our advice for schools on safe school trips and transport.

Take action:Read our guide for schools on teaching and promoting road safety.

[1] Reported road casualties Great Britain: annual report 2013, Department for Transport, 2014, tables RAS53001 and RAS30013

[2] Seatbelts: the facts, THINK!, undated

[3] Seat belts: the law,, 2014

[4] Crash protection for child passengers: a review of best practice, University of Michigan Transport Research Institute, 2000

[5] Seat belt law: minibuses and coaches, RoSPA, 2005

[6] The law: Other Vehicles (Buses, Coaches and Minibuses),, 2014

Page last updated: September 2014

Research reveals almost a third of people killed in cars on Britain’s roads are not wearing a seat belt

News from Brake
Friday 13 March 2020
New research revealed today, by insurer Direct Line and PACTS, found that almost a third (31 per cent) of those who died in vehicles on Britain’s roads in 2018 were not wearing a seat belt.
The research was revealed in the report: ‘Seat Belts: Time for Action’ which analysed over 1000 records obtained from Police Forensic Collision Investigators, under the FOI Act. The data showed an apparent increase in unbelted deaths from 25% in 2016 to 31% in 2018, suggesting the number of fatalities could be higher than official figures (26% in 2018), published by the Department for Transport.
Commenting, Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for Brake, said: “The true scale of people needlessly dying on our roads when not belted up could be much greater than we think – which is a real concern. Seat belts are proven to be the most effective way of keeping yourself safe in a crash and urgent action is needed to make sure everyone gets the message that seat belts save lives. We want to see penalty points introduced for non-seat belt wearing and greater investment in enforcement. Ultimately every death on the road is preventable but a death of someone not wearing a seat belt could so easily be avoided.”
Notes to editors:
The full report: ‘Seat Belts: Time for Action’ can be found here.

Seat belts and seat belt reminders

Key facts

  • Using a three-point seat belt (with a strap across your lap and chest) reduces the chance of dying in a crash by 50% [1]
  • In the UK, wearing a seat belt is a legal requirement if belts are fitted. Drivers are responsible for children under 14 being in a restraint appropriate to their age and height [2];
  • According to a survey in 2009, 95% of drivers and front-seat passengers and 89% of rear-seat passengers in England and Scotland used seat belts or child restraints [4];
  • Belts are least likely to worn by young men, delivery drivers, and people driving short distances on familiar roads.


Seat belts are one of the simplest and most important features for protecting vehicle occupants, and doing them up is one of the most basic steps drivers and passengers can take to reduce their risk of death or injury. Seat belt reminders (that give a warning if a seat belt is not done up) are a valuable additional tool to enable vehicle occupants to belt up regularly. Read on for more information about seat belts and seat belt reminders.

Learn more: Read our advice for drivers on belting up and our fact page on public transport safety.

Safety benefits of seat belts

Whether a driver or a passenger in a vehicle, in a crash a seat belt greatly improves your chance of avoiding serious injury or death. Using a three-point seat belt (the standard type fitted to modern vehicles, with a strap across your lap and chest) reduces the chance of dying in a crash by 50% [5].

It is essential that back seat passengers belt up too, for their own safety and the safety of other vehicle occupants. In a crash, an unrestrained back seat passenger can be thrown forward with enough force to kill the person in front of them.

Lap belts (where there is just one strap, across your lap) are not nearly as safe as three-point seatbelts, so they should be avoided. Severe injury can result from the top half of the body flying forward in a lap belt; children are particularly vulnerable. Hence if you drive a vehicle with lap belts on some seats, it's safest to not carry passengers in these seats. However in some crashes lap belts may be safer than not wearing a belt at all; they can reduce the chance of death in a crash by a third (32%) [6]. 

Legal requirements 

In the UK, wearing a seat belt is a legal requirement if belts are fitted. Drivers are responsible for children under 14 being in a restraint appropriate to their age and height. Passengers age 14 and above are legally responsible for their own belts [7]. Given the danger that an unrestrained passenger poses to other vehicle occupants in a crash, it is recommended that the driver makes sure everyone is wearing a belt.
A 2009 UK survey found 95% of drivers and front-seat passengers, and 89% of rear-seat passengers used a seatbelt or child restraint [8]. Belts are least likely to worn by young men, delivery drivers, and people driving short distances on familiar roads. If the rates of seat belt wearing were raised by just 1%, the savings to the nation in terms of the costs of lives and serious injuries has been estimated to be £14.4 million a year [9].

Learn more: Read our fact page on child restraints.

Seat belt reminders (SBR) 

Seat Belt Reminders (SBR) are devices that detect the presence of an occupant and and give an audible and/or visual warning if occupants are not wearing a seat belt. Since November 2014, SBRs have been compulsory in Europe in the driver's seat on new cars. 

Two specifications have been set for their standard: UN Regulation 16, Section 8.4 and the Euro NCAP assessment protocol (Euro NCAP, 2013).

There are many examples of research papers agreeing that SBRs have the proven potential to increase the seat belt wearing rate (and thereby reduce casualty rates) by issuing warnings [10]. 

In 2015, TRL (the UK's Transport Research Laboratory) published a report commissioned by the EC giving recommendations of vehicle safety systems that could be considered for legislation. TRL recommended seat belt reminder systems to be fitted to more seats (passenger and driver) in more vehicles on the basis of "safety equality", including consideration of fitment to coach passenger seats. 

End notes

[1] The Handbook of Road Safety Measures, Elsevier Science 2009
[2] Rules for drivers and motorcyclists (99-102), The Highway Code, 2016
[3] Seat belt rates: 2009 survey results for England and Scotland, Department for Transport, 2009
[4] Ibid
[5] The Handbook of Road Safety Measures, Elsevier Science 2009
[6] Effectiveness of Lap/Shoulder Belts in the Back Outboard Seating Positions, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1999
[7] Rules for drivers and motorcyclists (99-102), The Highway Code, 2016
[8] Seat belt rates: 2009 survey results for England and Scotland, Department for Transport, 2009
[9] Strapping yarns: why people do and do not wear seat belts, Department for Transport, 2008
[10] (Williams et al., 2002), (Ferguson et al., 2007), (Lie et al., 2007), (Freedman et al., 2009).

Last updated: November 2016 


Staying secure

Never underestimate the worth of a seat belt. They’re one of the simplest and most important features for protecting passengers during a car journey. They ensure that, if there is a crash, everyone in the vehicle is secure in their seats—helping to prevent injuries. No matter how expensive the car or how many advanced security features it has, fastening your seat belt is the most basic step you can take to reduce the risk of death or a severe injury.

You might be a very experienced and safe driver. Unfortunately, not everyone around you is as well. You’re sharing the road with newly qualified drivers as well as drivers who ignore the rules of the road. If there is an emergency situation, you may brake sharply and suddenly. This is where the seatbelt will prove its worth.  They may be seen as an inconvenience, but using one can reduce the chance of dying in a crash by 50%, according to The Handbook of Road Safety Measures.

In fact, research from the Transport Select Committee found that 21% of car occupants killed in crashes were not wearing a seatbelt during the journey. This applies just as much to passengers in the back, as well as the front. Passengers in the back that aren’t wearing their seat belt may fly forward during an accident and impact those in the front. It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that children under 14 years of age are secure. If you’re older than 14, you’re responsible for your own.  

Airbags can sometimes provide a sense of false security. They deploy on impact to provide a cushion. However, without a seatbelt, the passenger may not be in the correct position for a safe deployment – ironically placing them in more jeopardy. Of course, in an extreme crash, passengers may even be thrown from the vehicle without a seatbelt to hold them securely.

Octo Telematics, the number one global provider of telematics for the auto insurance industry, supports Road Safety Week and the pledges Brake has proposed on secure driving:

Drivers – I'll make sure everyone in my vehicle is belted up on every journey, and kids smaller than 150cm are in a proper child restraint. I'll choose the safest vehicle I can and ensure it's maintained.

Everyone – I'll belt up on every journey, and make sure friends and family do too.

Octo’s free smartphone app Octo U (iPhone and Android) collects, analyses and stores telematics data on your driving behaviour, giving you tips on how to improve and a score to motivate you. It detects, reconstructs and analyses all significant events that occur during a trip, such as harsh braking, rapid acceleration, speeding and how curves are negotiated. You can compare your score with friends and compete to be the best driver, as well as submit it to a panel of insurers to see if you could qualify for a discount.

Young drivers

  • Drivers aged 16-19 are a third more likely to die in a crash than drivers aged 40-49 [1]
  • One in four 18-24 year olds (23%) crash within two years of passing their driving test [2]
  • Young male drivers are involved in many more crashes than young female drivers [3]
Take action: Support Brake’s L for Later campaign to reduce young driver deaths.

Why are young drivers more at risk?

Young drivers (17-24 years old) are at a much higher risk of crashing than older drivers. Drivers aged 17-19 only make up 1.5% of UK licence holders [4], but are involved in 9% of fatal and serious crashes where they are the driver [5]. In 2018, 99 drivers aged 17-24 were killed and 1,170 were seriously injured in road crashes [6].

Worldwide, road crashes are the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 [7]. Young drivers are also over-represented in crash statistics compared with older drivers. For example, young drivers aged under 25 make up around one-tenth of the population in OECD countries but represent more than a quarter of drivers killed on the road [8].

The high level of risk associated with young drivers is due to a combination of youth and inexperience. Their inexperience means they have less ability to spot hazards, and their youth means they are particularly likely to take risks like dangerous overtaking or speeding. This not only means that crash risk reduces over time with experience, but also that people who start driving at a younger age are less likely to be involved in a collision [9].

Below are some of the specific characteristics of young drivers that put them at high risk of crashes.

Brain development

Although the human brain has mostly stopped growing by the end of a person’s teenage years, it continues to go through a period of extensive remodelling. This strengthens connections between nerve cells and enables information to be processed more efficiently [10]. This period is critical for the development of the pre-frontal cortex (part of the frontal lobe), which plays an important role in regulating impulsive behaviour, and the ability to anticipate the consequences of behaviour.

The pre-frontal cortex does not reach full maturity until people are at least in their mid-20s.

Meanwhile, the limbic region, which is associated with emotional responses, is over-active between the ages of 15 and 24. Increased limbic activity means that young people are more likely to be influenced by their peers and are more likely to indulge in thrill-seeking behaviour.

This period of development means young drivers are often more likely to take risks and less able to regulate their impulses or understand the consequences of their decisions.

Young people also underestimate certain high-risk behaviours. For example, research has shown that young drivers are less likely than older drivers to rate speeding as high-risk [11].

Take action: Run a community campaign with young people, with Brake's help.


As drivers gain experience on the road, they become less likely to crash and more likely to drive in a manner that is attentive, careful, responsible and safe [12]. However, many young drivers are still overconfident in their ability to drive safely.

Over-confidence can lead to dangerous driving behaviours including:

  • Overtaking
  • Speeding
  • Tailgating
  • Harsh braking
  • Racing

Research has shown 98% of drivers aged 17-25 think of themselves as safe, and 42% believe they are very safe [13]. Instead, many attribute young drivers’ collisions to the actions of a reckless few.

However, while the practical skills of driving can be mastered quickly, some (less obvious) skills such as hazard perception require more experience [14]. This means young drivers may think they are in control when they are actually driving unsafely [15], and become more likely to take risks as they believe their skills are improving [16]. Young drivers who show overconfidence in self-assessment of their skills are more likely to crash in their first two years of driving than those who are insecure about their driving skills [17].

Poor assessment of hazards

Although some hazards on the road are easy to identify, there are some situations where hazards are not immediately obvious. It often takes experience to notice these hidden hazards, so inexperienced young drivers may not notice them and react in time. Research has shown young drivers show poorer attention, visual awareness, hazard recognition and avoidance, and are less able to judge appropriate speed for circumstances [18].

Driving requires constantly balancing the attention needed for practical tasks such as steering and changing gears, and more cognitively demanding tasks such as hazard identification [19]. Because of their inexperience young drivers need to concentrate more on practical tasks, so are slower to switch between tasks and slower to react to hazards [20].

Common risky behaviours


Young people often drive too fast because they underestimate the risks associated with speeding, and crashes occur because they do not have to react to a dangerous situation and control their vehicle to avoid a collision. Excessive or inappropriate speed a key contributor towards crashes involving young drivers in the UK and elsewhere. Across Europe, speed contributes to 30% of all crashes involving young male drivers and 21% of crashes involving young female drivers [21]. This compares to only 15% of older drivers’ crashes.

The younger the driver, the more likely they are to be involved in a crash caused by speed. This is particularly the case for young men, who are much more likely to be involved in a fatal crash caused by speeding than young female drivers [22].

Learn more: Read our fact pages on the risks of speeding.

Drink and drug driving

Drivers in their 20s have the highest rate of drink-driving crashes and the second-highest rate of drug driving crashes after 16-19 year olds [23] [24]. In 2017, 160 people were killed or seriously injured in crashes involving a young driver who was over the drink-drive limit [25].

The prevalence of drug driving is harder to measure due to inconsistent reporting, but one study found that almost one in 10 (9%) of 17-24 year olds in the UK admit having driven on drugs [26].

Even low levels of alcohol in the blood can make a young driver significantly more likely to be involved in a road crash. With a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.02-0.05% (equivalent to two drinks), a young driver aged 16-19 is seven times more likely to be killed in a crash than a sober driver of any age [27].

Learn more: Read our fact pages on drink driving and drug driving.

Not wearing seat belts

Young drivers and passengers are less likely to always wear seat belts [28], and may not belt up when in a car with friends due to peer pressure. American research has found that seat belt use by young drivers decreases as the number of young passengers they carry increases [29].

Learn more: Read our fact page on seat belts and crash protection.

Mobile phones

Any phone call at the wheel can cause a distraction, including hands-free conversations. Drivers speaking on a phone experience ‘visual tunnelling’ that limits their field of vision, putting them and other road users at risk.

Young drivers need to concentrate more on driving than more experienced drivers, which makes them more susceptible to distraction, for example from mobile phones [30]. Despite this, evidence suggests young drivers are more likely than older drivers to use their mobile phones at the wheel: a Brake survey found that 19% of young drivers admitted texting at the wheel at least once a month, compared with 11% of older drivers taking this risk [31]. American research has found that 60% of young drivers admit writing texts or emails while driving, and 77% admit speaking on a phone [32].

Learn more: Read our fact page on the risks of distraction.

Other risk factors

Carrying passengers

Research shows that peer pressure can encourage bad driving and result in drivers ‘showing off’ to their passengers and taking more risks. 16-17 year-old drivers are up to four times more likely to die in a crash when carrying young passengers than when driving alone, but 62% less likely when carrying older adult passengers, indicating it is peer pressure rather than simply the presence of passengers that raises the risk [33]. Young passengers can also cause distraction: teenage drivers are six times more likely to have a serious incident when there is loud conversation in the vehicle [34].

Driving at night

Young drivers have a higher proportion of crashes in the evenings and early mornings [35]. Young drivers’ high risk at night is thought to be because they are most likely to be driving for recreational purposes, and more likely to be drunk or drugged, or taking risks such as speeding due to peer pressure [36]. It may also be because drivers at night are more likely to be driving tired [37].

Driving at night also requires extreme care. Young drivers may be under the impression that because roads are quieter at night it is safer for them to speed or pay less attention. In fact, driving at night takes more care due to poorer visibility, and greater likelihood of drink drivers or drunk pedestrians on the roads.

Learn more:Read our fact page on the risks of driving tired.

What can be done to improve the safety of young people?

To help young people be safer on our roads, we need a better driver training and testing system, better alternatives to driving for young people, and investment in monitoring technology for young drivers. These recommendations are outlined below.

Graduated driver licensing

New drivers are subject to more restrictions than more experienced drivers. A person’s licence can be revoked if they accumulate six penalty points within two years of passing their driving test.

The Government is currently consulting on new measures to make young drivers safer on the roads. These measures form part of an approach known as ‘graduated driver licensing’. The proposals include banning young drivers from travelling at night, introducing a minimum learning period, and not driving with passengers under a certain age in the vehicle [38].

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) allows new drivers to build up their driving skills and experience gradually through a more staged and structured approach to learning to drive, including a minimum learning period followed by a post-test novice driver period with licence restrictions. This restricted novice period helps to limit the exposure of new drivers to the dangerous situations highlighted above, including driving at night and carrying passengers.

Evidence suggests that introducing graduated driver licensing in Great Britain could save at least 4,471 casualties, and this is a conservative estimate [39].

Research has found that fatal collisions involving young drivers have reduced by 9% in countries that have introduced GDL schemes, while overall casualties have reduced by 5% [40].

Learn more: Read our fact page on graduated driver licensing.

Provide better alternatives to driving

Because of young people’s propensity for risk-taking, due to the late development of the brain’s frontal lobe (see ‘increased risk-taking’, above), the younger you are when you get a driving licence the greater the risk. A UK study predicted that young people would have 9% fewer crashes in their first year of driving if they delayed learning to drive until 18 years old rather than 17, and a further 8% fewer if they delayed until 19 years old [41].

The proportion of young drivers holding a full driving licence has decreased since the early 1990s. In 1997/97, 43% of 17-20 year olds held a driving licence, compared with 31% in 2016 [42].

Encouraging young people to delay or avoid learning to drive can therefore have a significant impact on safety. Many young people learn to drive as soon as possible because they feel they have little other option for getting around. A Brake and Direct Line survey found almost half of drivers (48%), and three in ten young people (28%), think public transport is not good enough to provide a realistic alternative to driving in their area [43]. Brake believes improving access to and affordability of public transport, and walking and cycling routes to workplaces and colleges, should be a priority for central government and local authorities.

Learn more: Read our fact page on sustainable and active travel.

Monitor and influence young drivers through technology

Some insurers offer ‘black box’ technology to young drivers. These devices monitor their speed and the times they are on the road, and can be used to set curfews so young drivers are not able to drive during high-risk hours, i.e. late at night. Young drivers abiding by these rules can be given discounts on their insurance, which has been shown to be an effective incentive to reduce young driver speeds [44].

Black boxes can also be used to allow parents to monitor young drivers’ behaviour: as well as providing peace of mind for the parents and guardians of young drivers, parental monitoring has been found to reduce risky driving [45].

Voluntary codes

In the US, parent/young driver agreements are popular. The new driver is allowed to drive the family car or their own car, unsupervised, if they agree to certain conditions for the first year or two of driving. The conditions include restrictions on carrying passengers and driving at night, similar to formal restrictions imposed under GDL (as above). Although not legally binding, parents could enforce the rules by stating, for example, that their teenager is not allowed to drive for a week if they break any of the rules.

Learn more: Download a sample Safe Driving Agreement produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
Take action: if you’re a young person or work with young people, get involved in Brake’s work promoting safe and sustainable road use among this age group.

[1] Department for Transport (2019), Reported road casualties in Great Britain, annual report: 2018, table RAS30025
[2] The AA (2012), Young drivers at risk
[3] Department for Transport (2019), Reported road casualties in Great Britain, annual report: 2018, table RAS30011
[4] Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (2015), Full and provisional driving licences by age and gender
[5] Department for Transport (2018), Young car drivers road safety factsheet (2016)
[6] Department for Transport (2019), Reported road casualties in Great Britain, 2018, table RAS30024
[7] World Health Organization (2018), Global status report on road safety 2018
[8] International Transport Forum & OECD (2006), Young Drivers: The road to safety
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[12] Road Safety Observatory (2017), Young drivers
[13] Department for Transport (2015), The Department for Transport young drivers research debrief
[14] Isler, B. et al (2011), Effects of higher-order driving skill training on young, inexperienced drivers, The University of Waikato
[15] Clarke, D. et al (2006), Young driver accidents in the UK: the influence of age, experience, and time of day, The University of Nottingham
[16] Centre for Automotive Safety Research (2012), Young drivers make fewer steering errors but take more risks as they gain experience
[17] de Craen, S. (2010), A longitudinal study of calibration in young novice drivers
[18] McKnight, J. and McKnight, S. (2003), Young novice drivers: careless or clueless? Accident Analysis and Prevention 35(6), 921-925
[19] Fuller, R. (2011), Driver control theory: from task difficulty homeostasis to risk allostasis. In Porter, B. (Ed.), Handbook of Traffic Psychology
[20] Federal Highway Administration (2001), Young driver characteristics and capabilities
[21] European Commission (2020), Characteristics of these crashes
[22] SafetyNet, Novice drivers, European Commission, Directorate-General Transport and Energy , 2009, retrieved 201
[23] Department for Transport (2019), Reported road casualties in Great Britain, annual report: 2018, table RAS51102
[24] Department for Transport (2019), Reported road casualties in Great Britain, annual report: 2018, table RAS51104
[25] Department for Transport (2019), Reported road casualties in Great Britain, annual report: 2018, table RAS51008
[26] RAC (2012), Young drug-drivers 'on the rise'
[27] AAA, DUI Justice Link: Alcohol, 2017. This webpage references analysis from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Teenagers: Alcohol Involvement, 2015 using data from the US Department of Transport’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS)
[28] Cooperative Crash Injury Study (2008), CCIS final reports on crash analysis
[29] McCartt, T. and Northrup, V. (2004), Factors related to seat belt use among fatally injured teenage drivers, Journal of Safety Research 35(1), 29-34
[30] Haque, M. and Washington, S. (2014), Reaction times of drivers distracted by mobile phone conversations, Queensland University of Technology
[31] Brake and Direct Line (2014), Driver distraction
[32] Trivedi, N. et al (2017), Cell phone use while driving: Prospective association with emerging adult use, Accident Analysis and Prevention
[33] AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (2012), Teen driver risk in relation to age and number of passengers
[34] Foss, R. and Goodwin, A. (2014), Distracted Driver Behaviors and Distracting Conditions Among Adolescent Drivers, Journal of Adolescent Health 54(5), S50-S60
[35] Ward, H. et al (2005), Night-time Accidents, Centre for Transport Studies, University College London
[36] Gheorghiu, A. et al (2015), Peer pressure and risk taking in young drivers’ speeding behaviour
[37] Department for Transport (2013), Fatigue and Road Safety: A Critical Analysis of Recent Evidence
[38] Department for Transport (2019), Government looks at steps to make new drivers safer
[39] TRL (2013), Reducing road accidents among young novice drivers
[40] Hartling et al. (2011), Graduated driver licensing for reducing motor vehicle crashes among young drivers, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
[41] Maycock, G. and Forsyth, E. (1995), Cohort Study of learner and Novice Drivers: Part 3, Accidents, Offences and Driving Experience in the First Three Years of Driving, Transport Research Laboratory
[42] Road Safety Observatory (2017), Young drivers
[43] Brake and Direct Line (2013), Are you ready to drive?
[44] Bolderdijk, J. et al (2011), Effects of Pay-As-You-Drive vehicle insurance on young drivers’ speed choice,  The University of Groningen
[45] National Institutes of Health (2013), Teenage drivers less likely to take risks driving when incidents are reported to parents

Page last updated: April 2020