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50 years on people continue to ignore seat belt laws at their peril, warns the IAM

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The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) is warning that despite 50 years of seat belt laws, far too many drivers and passengers are still putting themselves and others in great danger by not wearing seat belts.

The first seat belt law came into force in January 1965, which saw all new cars in the UK required to have seat belt anchorage points on the outer front seats – and paved the way for far-reaching compulsory seat belt wearing laws in the decades after.

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).

According to Safer Roads, 2,000 people a year are saved by wearing seat belts. They say in the event of an accident if unrestrained, you will hit the windscreen, or the front seat in the case of a rear seat passenger at a force of 30 to 60 times your own body weight (2).

The effectiveness of seat belts as a life saving device is without question. Research has found that for drivers seat belts are 50% effective at preventing fatal injuries, 45% effective at preventing serious injuries and 25% effective at preventing minor injuries.

It also found for front seat passengers, seat belts are 45% effective at preventing fatal or serious injuries, and 20% effective at preventing minor injuries (3).

Quite apart from safety factors, drivers caught without a seat belt face on-the-spot fines of £100 and three penalty points. If prosecuted, the maximum fine is £500.

Back in 1965 all new cars sold were required to have seat belt anchorage points for the front outer seats. In 1967 the law was changed so all new cars were required to have seat belts fitted. In 1968, seat belts were required to be retro-fitted to all cars sold from 1965.

The biggest development in seat belt development came in 1983 when it became compulsory for front seat occupants to wear one. This Sunday (31 January) marks the 32nd anniversary of the passing of the front seat belt law in the UK.

In 1989 it became compulsory for all children under 14 to wear a seat belt in the rear, and finally in 1991 it was required that all rear seat occupants wear a seat belt.
After the 1983 law was passed, there was an immediate 25% reduction in driver fatalities and a 29% reduction in fatal injuries among front seat passengers.

Despite that, the 2013 statistics show there is still a section of the driving population that continues to ignore the law, despite it being in place for more than three decades.

Kevin Delaney, IAM head of road safety, 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.”

Although putting on a seat belt is habitual to many car occupants today, evidence from the DfT’s THINK! campaign has found that people are less likely to belt up on short or familiar journeys (4).

Kevin added: “The trouble is 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.”

He called for continued campaigning by government, police and road safety bodies to ensure the issue of wearing seatbelts remains a priority message.

“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 Department of Transport accident statistic.”

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