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Seat belts save lives

It is estimated that seat belts save around 2,000 lives per year in the UK alone, as well as preventing thousands more serious head, face and internal injuries. So why is it that the government has to spend millions on increasingly graphic adverts to encourage us to wear them?

Crashing at 30mph, within the speed limit, you will hit the windscreen with a force of 35-60 times your body weight. That’s like jumping off a 30 ft building onto a glass canopy. Rear seat passengers, as the graphic TV ad of recent years reminds us, will hit the driver or front seat passenger with similar force.

Seat belts and the law

Not surprisingly, it was Volvo, a well-known pioneer of car safety, that first introduced the seat belt in 1958. Seat belts quickly became widespread and it was made compulsory to wear front seat belts in 1982. Rear seat belts became compulsory in 1991.

  • If you are caught not wearing your seat belt, you face a spot fine of £60, which can rise to £500 if you challenge the fine in court and lose.
  • It is also a legal requirement for your MOT, to have fully working seat belts that are in good condition. Any sign of wear and tear or fraying will result in an immediate fail.
  • If you are involved in an accident, and sustain an injury while not wearing your seat belt, you may find that your motor insurance will not pay out, as you have not taken reasonable precautions to protect yourself. This means that not only will your injuries be more severe, but you may also get less compensation to help you deal with them.

Exceptions to the seat belt laws

As you would expect, there are very few exceptions to the seat belt laws. These are:

  • When reversing (or teaching a learner who is reversing).
  • Driving or travelling in certain police, fire and rescue vehicles.
  • Goods vehicles making deliveries no more than 50 metres apart.
  • Licensed taxi drivers.
  • Holders of a medical exemption certificate.

If your vehicle is a classic car and does not have seat belts, then you are also exempt from the law. However, this only applies if the vehicle was originally manufactured without seat belts.

Medical exemptions

Contrary to common belief, there is no exception for pregnant women, unless they have an exemption certificate from their doctor. The same is true for disabled drivers, who will be expected to modify their vehicle to allow seat belts to be worn.

You can apply for a medical exemption certificate from your doctor under certain strict circumstances. You must carry this with you and produce it if requested by a police officer or other authorised figure.

What about airbags?

Many people assume that airbags will do the job of a seat belt, but this is far from the truth. Airbags are designed to work in conjunction with seatbelts, not in place of them. Whereas a seat belt will restrain your body from moving in the first place, an airbag will only soften the impact of that movement, which can still lead to serious internal injuries.

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