The UK seat belt laws are straightforward to understand, but there are a number of important points and guidelines that drivers and passengers must be aware of, especially when it comes to exceptions.
The law states that everyone must wear a seat belt while travelling in new and used cars, if there is a seat belt fitted and the person does not meet one of the limited exceptions. Only one person must sit in each defined seat, and only one person must use a single seat belt: sharing of seat belts is forbidden by law, and is also far more likely to result in injury as the result of an accident, as people can be forced together or crushed.
Statistically, you are 50% more likely to suffer a serious injury in the event of an incident if you aren’t wearing a seat belt; you may also injure other passengers, and failure to comply can also result in your insurance policy being invalidated. A fine of up to £500 can also be imposed.
It’s also important to be aware of the law surrounding child passengers. Children must use a correctly-fitted car seat until they reach either their 12th birthday or 135 cm in height, whichever comes first. All children must wear a seat belt. Note that the driver can be fined if children under the age of 14 do not wear a belt, so it’s your responsibility to ensure that younger passengers abide by the law.
It’s also important to wear a seat belt correctly; it should rest snugly against the body, without any slackness or twists. It should fit across the chest and shoulder, and not rest against or constrain your neck, while a lap belt should fit across the hips, not waist. If the belt doesn’t fit correctly or is uncomfortable, check guidelines on how to correctly adjust it; do not artificially adjust the belt with padding or other materials that may lessen its effectiveness.
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Vehicles without seat belts
If the vehicle was manufactured without seat belts, then there is no legal requirement to have them fitted. However, children under 3 cannot ride in the vehicle, and children over 3 must ride in rear seats. This exemption does not apply to modified vehicles. If you are caught driving without seat belts in a vehicle where manufacturer-fitted belts have been removed, then you will be penalised.
There are several times you do not need to wear a seat belt in a standard vehicle.
1. Police, fire and rescue services are exempt
2. You may take off the seat belt while reversing, or to supervise a learner driver while they reverse
3. Motor trade employees investigating a vehicle fault are exempt, though normal driving on trade plates is not a reason for exemption
4. Licensed taxi drivers are not legally obligated to wear a belt
5. Delivery drivers driving under 50 yards between stops are exempt
Exemptions on medical grounds
There are certain times when doctors can provide a “certificate of exemption” from wearing a seat belt, but these are determined on an individual case basis – there are no automatic conditions for exemption. This certificate must be kept within the vehicle and shown to a police officer if you are stopped. Additionally, you must notify your insurer before travelling with such a certificate.
Being pregnant does not exempt you from wearing a seat belt, and wearing a belt can reduce the risk of injury to you and your unborn child by two thirds. Do not drive if your baby bump makes it hazardous to operate a vehicle, for example if you are unable to reach certain controls or pedals.
Disabled motorists and passengers
As with pregnancy, most disabilities do not exempt you from wearing a seat belt. Vehicles can be modified to cope with many disabilities.