Under the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) Regulations 1993, the seat belt law states that anyone travelling in a car or other road vehicle must wear a seat belt, with the enforcement of a monetary fine and penalty points on your driving licence if you break this law. The seat belt law covers adults, children, passengers and drivers alike.
If you are found to be travelling in a vehicle and not wearing a seat belt, you may be fined up to £500. A driver may be further penalised with 3 penalty points on their driving licence.
The initial fixed penalty fee will be £100, increasing in amount up to £500, should the case go to court.
A driver who does not ensure that their child passengers are wearing the correct seatbelt or car seat will receive a fixed penalty fee of £100.
Where the non seat belt wearing becomes apparent as the result of a vehicle accident, you may find that you are unable to make a claim against your motor insurance.
Furthermore, where a child passenger is injured as a result of not wearing a seat belt or using a car seat and you are the driver, you may face civil proceedings from the parents of that child.
The seat belt law for adults
All adults travelling in a road vehicle, whether driver or passenger, must wear a seat belt if one is fitted. This is regardless of whether they sit at the front or rear of a vehicle.
The category of adult, in this instance, begins at 14 years old.
The seat belt law for children
For children who are aged 13 years or younger, a seat belt or car seat must be used when travelling in a road vehicle but there are different conditions depending on age and height.
Under 3 years old
Firstly, a child under 3 years old is not allowed to travel in a car that doesn’t have seatbelts.
Where the car does have seatbelts and the child is travelling in the front seat, you must use the appropriate car restraint for their age and size. A seat belt on its own is not suitable for this age group. Where there is an active airbag, it is illegal to use a rear facing child seat. Either deactivate the airbag, use a front facing child seat or place the child in the rear of the car.
If the child sits on the rear seat, they must again be fitted with the appropriate car restraint for their age and size.
3 years to 12th birthday or 135cm in height (whichever is reached first)
Where the child sits in the front seat, you must use the appropriate car restraint for their age and size. A seat belt on its own is not suitable for this age group.
If the child sits in the rear of the car, they must again be fitted with the appropriate car restraint for their age and size.
Where an appropriate car restraint is not available in the rear of the car, a child of this age group may use the normal seat belt for a short distance, where the journey is necessary and unexpected.
12 to 13 years old, or younger than 12 but over 135cm in height
The child must wear the appropriate car restraint for their age and size whether travelling in the front of rear of the vehicle.
Exceptions to the seat belt law
There are a number of exceptions to the seat belt law where you do not need to wear a seat belt. These include:
- where a driver is reversing their vehicle
- where a driver is supervising a learner driver to reverse their vehicle
- police, fire and rescue services vehicles
- where you are a passenger investigating a fault in a trade vehicle
- where you are driving a delivery vehicle a short distance of no more than 50 metres between stops
- a taxi driver carrying passengers or looking to pick up new passengers
- a passenger in a vehicle that is taking part in a procession organised by or on behalf of the crown
- where you have a medical certificate of exemption from compulsory seat belt wearing, provided by your doctor, and kept in your vehicle should you be required to produce it
Is a driver responsible for their passengers?
A driver is not responsible for their adult, that is 14 years or older, passengers. However, a driver does shoulder the responsibility for ensuring that any child passengers in their vehicle are fitted with appropriate car restraints.
The situation is different, however, for drivers of minibuses or coaches.
Minibuses and coaches
Minibuses and coaches registered on 1 October 2001 or since that date must be fitted with seatbelts. Minibuses and coaches registered before that date which transport children must have suitable seatbelts fitted for each child.
The driver of a minibus must always wear a seatbelt. Adult passengers must wear a seatbelt.
Children under 3 may travel in the front seat if wearing a fitting child restraint, otherwise they must travel in the rear seats, again wearing the correct child restraint.
Children aged over 3 and up to their twelfth birthday, or under 135cm in height, must wear a fitting child restraint or where this is not available, the standard seat belt.
Child aged 12 to 13, or younger children who are over 135 cm, may use the standard seat belt.
The driver bears responsibility for ensuring that any children travelling in the minibus are suitably fitted with the correct child restraint or wear the normal seatbelt as appropriate to their age and size.
This category also applies to public transport buses.
The driver must wear a seatbelt. Adult passengers must wear a seatbelt, where fitted, but it is recommended that child passengers also wear a seatbelt or correct child restraint where provided.
This requirement does not, however, apply to passengers travelling in the upper deck of a coach.
Does a pregnant woman have to wear a seat belt?
Although wearing a seat belt during pregnancy may be uncomfortable, you are still legally required to do so. The only exception to this is where your doctor has provided you with a certificate of exemption.
Does a disabled person have to wear a seat belt?
The seat belt law applies to disabled drivers and passengers unless your doctor has provided you with a certificate of exemption.
What if your vehicle has no seat belts?
In the unusual situation where your vehicle doesn’t have seat belts fitted, and was originally manufactured without seat belts, you may travel without wearing seat belts as an adult. However, you may not carry children under 3 years old in your vehicle, and children over 3 years may only travel in the rear seats.
What about dogs?
Rule 57 of the Highway Code says that if you have a dog, or other animal, travelling in your car with you, they must be suitably restrained so that they cannot distract the driver or cause injury to themselves or anyone else in the car.
Allowing your dog to run riot in your car doesn’t carry a seat belt law related penalty in itself but you may be pulled over by the police for careless driving.
Why take legal advice?
Where you face a possible fine for not wearing your seat belt, take specialist legal advice to ensure you are fully informed on your situation and to assist you in facing any legal proceedings.