Since 1983, it has been a legal requirement for both drivers and passengers to wear seat belts, however, seat belt law isn't that straightforward. The law states that you must wear a seat belt if fitted unless you qualify for a medical exemption and have the certificate to prove it. But, who's responsibility is it to ensure that seat belts are worn? What are the exemptions from the law? And what are the penalties if you're found not wearing a seat belt?
What is the seat belt law?
Essentially, the law requires that drivers and passengers aged 14 and over must wear a seat belt if one is available, and for children up to 135cms in height to use a child restraint. It is highly unlikely that your vehicle will not have a seat belt unless it's an old classic.
The law has gradually changed over the years. In 1967, all cars manufactured since 1965 were required to be retrofitted with front seat belts and in 1987 all new cars sold in the UK legally had to have rear seat belts fitted too. Further development in 1989 led to it becoming a legal requirement for children travelling in the back of cars to wear seat belts, which was later followed by adult passengers in 1991.
Although wearing a seat belt ought to be second nature, the law regarding seat belts and who is responsible for ensuring that passengers are wearing seat belts can become rather cloudy. Put simply, drivers are responsible for ensuring that anyone under the age of 14 wears a seat belt or users an appropriate child restraint as required by law.
However, for passengers over the age of 14 and pregnant women, it is the passenger's responsibility to ensure that they are wearing a seat belt. Pregnant women do not have to wear a seat belt if they have a doctor's note instructing otherwise.
There are a few genuine exemptions to wearing a seat belt. There is no legal requirement to wear a seat belt if you're:
- a driver who is reversing, or supervising a learner driver who is reversing
- in a vehicle being used for police, fire and rescue services
- a passenger in a trading vehicle and you’re investigating a fault
- driving a goods vehicle on deliveries that are traveling no more than 50 meters between stops
- a licensed taxi driver who is ‘plying for hire' or carrying passengers
You also may be exempt from wearing a seat belt on medical grounds. If this is the case, your doctor will issue you with a 'Certificate of Exemption from Compulsory Seat Belt Wearing', which you must:
- keep in your vehicle
- produce to the police if you're stopped
If you're caught traveling in a vehicle without wearing a seat belt, and none of the exemptions above applies, you could face a fine of up to £500, as well as three penalty points. If you're driving and carrying a child under the age of 14, without the proper restraint, you could be liable for a fine of up to £500 and three penalty points.
However, for passengers age 14 and over, given that it is their own responsibility to ensure that they are wearing a seat belt, they themselves may face a fine of up to £500 and can be awarded two penalty points.
Always remember to wear your seat belt. If the law is not a good enough reason to wear your seat belt, remember that it's an incredibly important safety feature that can help to save lives. Designed to contact the strongest parts of the body, seat belts spread out the force of a collision and can help to avoid serious injury. If you don't wear your seat belt, you put yourself at greater risk of severe injury or even death.