Road Safety News

50 years on, IAM issues seat belt warning

Thursday 29th January 2015

The IAM is warning that, despite 50 years of seat belt laws, “far too many drivers and passengers” are putting themselves and others in danger by not wearing seat belts

The first seat belt law came into force in January 1965 when all new cars in the UK were required to have seat belt anchorage points on the front seats, paving the way for compulsory seat belt wearing laws over the following decades.

The IAM quotes DfT stats which show that of the 232 car occupants killed in 2013 for which seatbelt data was recorded, 45 (19%) were not wearing a seat belt.

Kevin Delaney, the IAM’s head of road safety, is calling for continued campaigning by Government, police and road safety organisations to ensure the issue of wearing seatbelts remains a priority message.

Kevin Delaney said: “The biggest problem is complacency. Quite simply people feel it will never happen to them.

“They think if they are driving locally and at a low speed they will be OK. Statistics show that many accidents not only take place at low speeds but also within a few miles of home – so people are mistaken if they think that makes them safer.

“If people are not wearing a seat belt and find themselves heading towards an accident, it is far too late to do anything about it.

“We need to keep spreading the message particularly on rear seat belt use. And if people don’t take heed of it, they will end up as a DfT accident statistic.”


Comment on this story
Report a reader comment

What's your view - comment on this story:

I confirm that I have read and accept the moderation policy and house rules relating to comments posted on this website.
Your comment:
Your name and location:
Your email:

I always wear a belt when in my own car. Where I find real problems in fastening a belt is in a London Taxi. My wife and I rode in three London taxis last weekend - two traditional and one new Mercedes. In every case we had to really struggle to find the buckle into which we could put the tab from the belt. They were always tucked well into the upholstery between the seat and the back rest. We are well aware of how far we could be thrown around in the back of a cab if unbelted but find it very hard to actually fasten the belts. Does anyone else have this problem?
Robert Bolt, St Albans

Agree (2) | Disagree (2)

Well the Bill of Rights is the definition of democracy so that can't be a bad thing now can it. I have quite a bit of knowledge on this other issue.

Agree (2) | Disagree (2)

My understanding is that the difference re seatbelts being primary restraint or not revolves around the US Bill of Rights which means that the vehicle manufacturers must protect the occupants without the requirement of the occupant to take action themselves.
Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

The historic argument had nothing to do with safety-belts, just that there's no difference in standard EU vs US. Projectile argument on different things - advise yes, compel no. For airbags, I think we need to look at the US.

Agree (0) | Disagree (2)

Just a few points…
The trade is historic cars is because they are historic, not because you don’t have to wear a seatbelt. Most car manuals advise against unrestrained loads and pets. Although most pets are lighter than most human passengers they could still injure other car occupants. However the best argument for them being restrained is so that if they are panicked they can’t interfere with the driver, which is more likely to lead to a collision.

Derek (R):
I believe the “seatbelts make drivers more dangerous” argument did not hold water and was based on personal views that did not fit the statistics, but I could be wrong. Inertia reel belts overcome the ability to move that was an issue with static belts. It is true that more car occupants would benefit from helmets than cyclists, but you are back to effects on visibility. Car manufacturers are adding more airbags to mitigate for the risk of side on collisions. Packed in Styrofoam, the modern car interior is largely padded compared to the steel dash and steel reinforced steering wheel of the typical 1960’s car.

Airbags are designed (at least in Europe) to work with the seatbelt and the limited study ( showed that serious back injuries were twice as likely in No Seatbelt But Airbag, than in No Seatbelt No Airbag. I think the ratio was in the region of 10 times better with both being used.

Drivers have been killed by being too close to a steering wheel airbag, which is what happens if you are thrown forward before the airbag goes off (it’s a bomb in a bag). Early trials (which nearly killed the airbag at conception) resulted in the mannequin being ejected through the open window because it had slumped towards the door. No proof but I have heard of accidents where the driver has been ejected in the same way – clearly no seatbelt but did the airbag send them on the way?
Mark, Caerphilly

Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

I suppose Pablo, whether it's a buzzer or chime it's still irritating, which is the whole point and I'd like to think that most people wear belts because it is common sense, also the law and not just because there's a buzzer annoying them. As you say, why go to the trouble of by-passing the reminder system it by sitting on it when you can simply wear it? I think some just don't like obeying rules or being told what to do.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

One can import US cars without modifying them or not? With historic cars there isn't such a problem that's why there is a thriving trade in those.

Hugh I can't drive a modern car (both sides of the Atlantic btw) without a belt as the buzzer will annoy me. I could always keep the belt fastened at all times and simply sit on it but why would I want to do that.

Matt can you explain why so in Europe and not the US and vice versa because I just don't get it.

Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

Yes Matt, I guessed there were reasons why those systems were not continued - some car doors are pillarless for instance. Nowadays we have seat belt reminders ranging from the irritating "Put your belt on or we'll come and get you' buzzer", to the polite "Sorry to bother you but you won't forget your seat belt will you?" chime. Either way, for those who drive around unbelted, are they deaf to these reminders I wonder?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

Yes, Hugh but the door mounted belt only enables a diagonal belt as opposed to a 3-point as the lap portion still requires the driver to put it on.

Interlock could work but may come into difficulty with medical and job-specific exemptions and with approximately 97% compliance among drivers in the UK (if my memory serves me correctly) unit cost v potential benefit may not stack up compared to other options?
Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

I recall that for a while in the US, their domestic cars used to have the seat belt anchored to the trailing edge of the door instead of the 'B' post, so designed that as you got in, you couldn't help but 'wear' it. Also, they had the interlock system whereby the car wouldn't start unless the driver was belted up. Wouldn't that be better?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

Regulatory differences mean it is nigh on impossible to manufacture vehicles to meet both European and US safety standards to the same level. Each set of standards has its pros and cons and justification but as my first comment states, primary restraint in Europe is the seatbelt but that isn't the case in the US as the primary restraint cannot be the occupant's responsibility to "use". Hence the trials of self-attaching seatbelts etc. in the past and the different performance requirements of airbags in the US compared to Europe.
Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (0)

Only New Hampshire (state is called "Live Free or Die") has no law for adults. The rest have different laws which vary. Some manufacturers simply make airbags to US standard as it saves them costs and provides economies of scale. Why did modern cars become so complicated?

Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

The evidence is out there 'Pablo' - you just have to look for it!
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (3) | Disagree (5)

To pick up on your point about seat belts and airbags, in Europe the seatbelt is the primary restraint and airbags (and other systems) are designed to supplement the protection afforded by the belt. The systems are integrated and tuned according to the crash pulse generated by the crash structure of the vehicle to minimise the loading experienced by the occupant across a prescribed set of body regions. Anti-submarine seats, collapsible steering columns, deformable steering wheels and bolster materials used in the dashboard and internal panelling also add to the secondary protection, all centred around the belt keeping the occupant in their seat.

If we're talking about America though the airbag has taken on the role of primary restraint (preventing ejection) as seatbelt use is not law in all states - hence they have much larger, more powerful airbags.
Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

To illustrate why it's not wise to carry heavy/hard objects loose behind you (especially on the "rear parcel shelf"), I refer you to the account of the death of "Hollywood's first Western megastar" Tom Mix.

I came across his memorial a few years ago when driving between Tucson and Phoenix and looked into the circumstances.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Researcher, St Albans

Agree (9) | Disagree (6)

That is not backed by any concrete evidence whatsoever.

Agree (7) | Disagree (6)

Non-wearing of a seat-belt by a driver demonstrates an attitude of mind that makes them more accident prone - it's probably not what the IAM are getting at - but if you are being followed by a non-wearer, be particularly vigilant as they are more likely to have a corresponding disregard for other rules of the road and what is good practice behind the wheel.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (10) | Disagree (6)

Well said Derek aren't many of the injuries to the head?

Steve do you think there should be a law for people to strap in dogs, shopping bags, luggage, laptops, books, coke cans because in an accident they too can become "projectiles" right?

Agree (6) | Disagree (3)

I consider the statement from the IAM that not wearing a seat belt can create a greater danger to others as bordering on the fatuous. Seat belts are for personal protection. They do not protect other road users. In fact, there are instances where they may cause a greater threat to other road users.

The British Medical Journal printed some statistics of accidents some time after the compulsory seat belt law was introduced, and noted that there had been a sharp increase in the number of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists injured or killed, a 15% increase as quoted by one personal doctor. The cause was mooted as the involvement of the risk compensation factor creating a false sense of security for the wearer, which has the unwelcome effect of greater danger for those in the external environs of the vehicle.

Whilst it must be recognised that seat belts have saved many lives, there are also instances where the device prevents one from turning the head and upper torso to see along an oblique angle at a junction. This in turn may lead to moving forward in a hope that the road is clear when it may not be.

One might also consider that any vehicle fitted with air bags might have the effects of a seat belt negated. Unhindered by a belt, one has greater freedom of movement thereby countering certain blind spots created by window pillars. If protection from injury is the utopia for the IAM, perhaps they might consider compulsory wearing of crash helmets whilst driving or being passenger. In a side impact scenario the head would be protected from impact with the side window or pillar. A move in the right direction? – A direction that ultimately would see us all packed in styrofoam for any given journey?
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (8) | Disagree (29)

Occupants in a car who are not restrained - particularly rear seat passengers - can be thrown around in a crash causing death and injury to other occupants.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (19) | Disagree (4)

The seatbelt is often worn under the arm due to the fact that the standard three point belt does not fit certain people very well. Ladies with shall we say a generous embonpoint suffer very badly as the belt doesn't fit easily to their body shape. My wife solved the problem with a set of clips that stopped the belt from being wound back onto the inertia reel. Before she solved the problem by using the clips she rated the belt annoyance factor as "pretty well maximum"!
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident

Agree (6) | Disagree (6)

The IAM article quotes "Statistics from the Department of Transport show that of the 232 car occupants killed in 2013 (for which seatbelt data was recorded), 45 were not wearing a seat belt – a shocking 19%, or nearly one-fifth (1)"

Looking through my well thumbed copy of reported road casualties Great Britain 2009 I see that car road deaths in Europe amount to around 10,000. So 20% of 10,000 could give you the next statistic quoted. It should say though should it not.

With respect to injury or not to others the safer roads website quotes the following.

"Seatbelt wearing saves over 2,000 lives every year. Everyone knows they should wear a seat belt in the front seat, but many people still don’t realise how dangerous it is not to wear a seat belt in the back.

"In a crash at 30mph, if you are unrestrained, you will hit the front seat, and anyone in it, with a force of between 30 and 60 times your own body weight. This could result in death or serious injury to you and people sitting in front of you."
Steven Cross Leicestershire

Agree (10) | Disagree (4)

How are "drivers and passengers” who don't wear seat belts putting "others in great danger"?

Also, although seat belts do save lives, the data does not support the 2,000 lives saved per year. Why does there appear to be a need to exaggerate or deceive with most road safety messages? RSPs must surely be concerned that many citizens might see through these stories and treat all messages, even important ones, with scepticism or denial.

The IAM also says "Statistics show that many accidents not only take place at low speeds...". Surely it's even more important to wear a seat belt when you realise that the vast majority of even fatal collisions occur within the speed limit?
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (7) | Disagree (13)

On a slightly different note, I have noticed a number of drivers/passengers in my area wearing the diagonal part of the belt under their arm? I can only presume it is so they look like the belt is in use... must be quite uncomfortable and why not wear it properly in the first place?
Steve, London

Agree (8) | Disagree (0)