Seat Belts: Advice and Information

A picture of a seatbelt

Also available to download: Seat Belts: Advice and Information

This fact sheet about seat belts gives advice and information on:

The Purpose of Seat Belts

Seat belts are designed to retain people in their seats, and so prevent or reduce injuries suffered in a crash. They ensure that as little contact is made between the occupant and vehicle interior as possible and significantly reduce the risk of being thrown from a vehicle.

Seat belts are designed to work as the key part of wider injury prevention measures and safety systems, such as airbags and head restraints, which will not be as effective in reducing the risk of injury if an occupant is not wearing a seat belt.

Always wear your seat belt when travelling in the front or rear of a vehicle.

Always make sure that children travel in an appropriate child restraint until they are at least 135cm tall or 12 years old.

Facts and Figures

Car occupants form 60% of all road casualties. In 2014, 115,530 people were killed or injured while travelling in cars, of these 78,683 (68%) were drivers.

  Drivers Passengers All Occupants
Killed 568 229 797
Seriously Injured 5,486 2,549 8,035
Slightly Injured 72,629 34,069 106,698
All 78,683 36,847 115,530

Table 1, shows the number of car occupant casualties during 2014, sorted by severity of injury. Source: Reported Road Casualties 2014, DfT, September 2015.

Over 90% of adult front seat passengers and drivers wear seat belts, as do 66% of adult rear seat passengers. Since the law to wear seat belts in the front was introduced in 1983, front seat belts are estimated to have saved tens of thousands of lives in Great Britain.

Details about the law regarding seat belts and child car seats can be found in "Seat Belts: The Law"

Wearing a Seat Belt Correctly

Child in seatbelt

In order to wear a seat belt safely, the following points should be adhered to:

  • The belt should be worn as tight as possible, with no slack
  • The lap belt should go over the pelvic region, not the stomach
  • The diagonal strap should rest over the shoulder, not the neck
  • Nothing should obstruct the smooth movement of the belt by trapping it

In many vehicles, the height of the top of the seat belt can be adjusted on the B-pillar. If you cannot get the seat belt to fit over you correctly, as described above, you should try adjusting the height.

Damaged Seat Belts

Seat belts should be regularly checked for damage. Common forms of damage to the seat belt that will reduce its effectiveness in an accident, and also lead to the vehicle failing an MOT test, are:

  • Fraying or fluffing around the edges of the seat belt
  • A cut which causes the fabric to split
  • A hole in the seat belt
  • Damage to the buckle

In an accident, the webbing of a seat belt stretches, which absorbs some of the energy in an impact. This helps prevent any injury from the contact between the seat belt and occupant. A seat belt that has restrained an occupant in an accident would be more likely to cause an occupant injury if it were involved in another accident, and must always be replaced.

If any forces are applied to a seat belt, which are larger than would be expected during its usual operational life, it may also be worth having it checked to see if the webbing of the belt has been strained.

If in doubt, take your car to a garage to have the belt inspected by an expert.

Pregnant Women and Seat Belts

Pregnant woman in seat belt

All pregnant women must wear seat belts by law when travelling in cars. This applies to both front and back seats and pregnancy does not in itself automatically provide exemption from the law.

The safest way for pregnant women to wear a seat belt is:

  • Place the diagonal strap between the breasts (over the breastbone) with the strap resting over the shoulder, not the neck
  • Place the lap belt flat on the thighs, fitting comfortably beneath the enlarged abdomen, and over the pelvis not the bump
  • The belt should be worn as tight as possible.

In this way the forces applied in a sudden impact can be absorbed by the body's frame.

Pregnant women should not wear 'Lap-only-Belts' as they have been shown to cause grave injuries to unborn children in the event of sudden deceleration. Mother and unborn child are both safer in a collision if a lap and diagonal seat belt is being worn correctly.

Lap Belts

Although lap belts are not recommended for pregnant women, they are safe and suitable for other adult passengers. Three-point seat belts are safer, but wearing a lap belt is far better than wearing no seat belt at all, because the greatest risk of injury to car occupants in an accident comes from being thrown about inside the vehicle or being ejected from it.

The lap belt should go over the pelvis (not the soft stomach area) and fit as tightly as possible. Most car manufacturers now fit at least some of their range with a three-point seat belt in the centre of the rear seat.

Seat Belt Adjustment

Several devices exist which are designed to attach to the seat belts in order to pull them into a different position or change the way in which they rest on an occupant. RoSPA do not recommend the use of these devices, as no standards currently exist ensuring a basic crashworthiness.

Child Car Seats

Children must use a child car seat until they are either 135cm in height or 12 years old. For more information on Child Car Seats, RoSPA's website, www.childcarseats.org.uk, provides advice on choosing, fitting and using child car restraints and the law about using them.


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