Despite last week marking the 40th anniversary of the mandatory wearing of front seatbelts in the UK, the proportion of drivers wearing them is worryingly low

Words: Paul Guinness

Official figures show that almost a quarter of people killed in vehicle collisions aren’t wearing a seatbelt at the time. Despite this, according to a government report, 94.8 per cent of all drivers observed in 2021 wore a seatbelt, compared with 96.5 per cent in 2017. The same report stated that 23 per cent of car occupant fatalities in 2020 were not wearing a seatbelt, indicating that those choosing not to are far more likely to be killed in road accidents.  

Seatbelt wearing compliance is now thought to be at its lowest since mandatory front seatbelt use came into force on January 31, 1983. While the number of people killed on Britain’s roads has plateaued, the proportion of car occupants killed while not wearing a seatbelt has spiked sharply, reaching the highest level since records began.  

Meanwhile, accident prevention charity RoSPA has warned against seatbelt laws being lost or watered down as part of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022, which will see thousands of laws ‘sunset’ by the end of this year – including seatbelt legislation. Although seatbelt usage features in the Road Safety Act, RoSPA says the Bill is set to make critical information on who, where and when people should wear seatbelts unclear. 

Nathan Davies, the charity’s head of policy, commented: “Throwing vital seatbelt laws in the air at a time they are most needed will set the stage for thousands of the public being killed and injured on the road. We must not throw away the progress made over the last 40 years of mandatory seatbelt usage.” 

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 had its second reading in the Lords on February 6, 2023 and will enter the committee stage on February 23.