Safety risks aside, drivers and passengers can face penalties for not wearing a seat belt.
In this guide to UK seat belt law, we set out the rules on who has to wear a seat belt and when, and explain the implications of not following the law.
UK seat belt law
UK seat belt law is stipulated in the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) Regulations 1993. Under the Regulations, anyone travelling in a car or other road vehicle must wear a seat belt where fitted, unless an exemption applies, with the enforcement of a monetary fine and penalty points on your driving licence if you break this law.
In brief, it has been mandatory for front seat belts to be fitted to all cars since 1967, and since 1987, all new cars sold in the UK have been required to have rear seat belts fitted as well.
The seat belt law covers adults, children, passengers and drivers alike.
|Who is travelling?||Who is legally responsible?||Seat belt law for front seat||Seat belt law for rear seat|
|Driver||Driver||Seat belt must be worn if fitted||N/A|
|Passenger aged 14+||Passenger||Seat belt must be worn if fitted||Seat belt must be worn if fitted|
|Child aged 12 or 13 or taller than 135cm||Driver||Seat belt must be worn if fitted||Seat belt must be worn if fitted|
|Child aged 3-12 or smaller than 135cm||Driver||Approved child restraint needed||Approved child restraint needed, unless exceptions below)|
|Child under three||Driver||Approved child restraint needed||Approved child restraint needed, unless exceptions below)|
|Pregnant women||Passenger||Seat belt must be worn if fitted unless with a doctor’s note||Seat belt must be worn if fitted unless with a doctor’s note|
|Animal||Driver||Animals must be suitably restrained to prevent injury||Animals must be suitably restrained to prevent injury|
Seat belt laws for adults
All adults travelling in a road vehicle, whether driver or passenger, must wear a seat belt if one is fitted in the vehicle. This is regardless of whether they sit at the front or rear of a vehicle.
The category of adult, in the context of seatbelt laws, begins at 14 years old.
The law also requires pets to be be suitably restrained to prevent injury.
Seat belt laws for children
In relation to children, specific definitions apply. A “child” is a person who is under 14 years old, while a “small child” is one who is under 12 years old and less than 150cm in height. A “large child” is one who is not a “small child”.
For children who are aged 13 years or younger, a seat belt or car seat must be used when travelling in a road vehicle, with different conditions depending on the child’s 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 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
Penalties for not wearing a seat belt
If you’re found to be travelling in a vehicle and not wearing a seat belt, the initial fixed penalty fee is £100, increasing up to £500, should the case go to court.
A driver may also be further penalised with 3 penalty points on their driving licence.
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.
If, following a motor accident, it becomes apparent that a seat belt was not worn, 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.
Is a driver responsible for their passengers?
A driver is not responsible for their adult passengers, that is passengers who are aged 14 years or above.
However, a driver does have responsibility for ensuring that any child passengers in their vehicle are fitted with appropriate car restraints.
The rules are different 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.
Seat belt law for dogs and pets
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.
Having your dog unrestrained in your car does not in itself carry a seatbelt-related penalty, but depending on the circumstances, you may face a charge of 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.
Seat belt law FAQs
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 someone with a disability 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.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute tax, financial or legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the rules and should not be treated as such.
Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission.
Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert tax, financial, legal or other advice should be sought.