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.

Introduction

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 

 

Tags: road deaths serious injury seat belt