Woman in blue jeans putting her seatbelt on

Seatbelts are installed in vehicles to help ensure the safety of all drivers and passengers.

Seatbelt legislation has been in existence for around 30 years, and it is estimated that seatbelts saved over 50,000 lives in the first 20 years of that legislation. According to the AA, seatbelts more than halve the risk of death in a collision.
Nowadays, the vast majority of motorists and passengers understand the importance of wearing a seatbelt, and don’t need legislation to be convinced of their importance. However, some people are unaware of the legal mechanics behind seatbelt use. Here, we take a closer look at the dos and don’ts of seatbelt wearing in the UK for adults and children aged over 12 (or at least 135cm in height).

This guide contains information on:

    If you’re looking for more information on seatbelt use for younger children, child restraints and booster seats, take a look at our child car seat section.

    What is the penalty for not using a seatbelt?

    Calculator and some twenty pound notes

    The penalties for not wearing a seatbelt are simple. If you’re caught not using one you could face:

    • A fixed penalty of £100, or
    • A fine of up to £500 if the case goes to court

    Who doesn’t need to wear a seatbelt?

    Man looking out of his car window

    Seatbelt laws are fairly simple: only one person is allowed in each seat fitted with a belt, and as a general rule, if the seat you’re sitting in is fitted with a seatbelt, you must wear it. There are, however, a few exceptions. For example, you do not need to wear a seatbelt if you:

    • Are a driver who is reversing, or supervising a learner driver who is reversing
    • Are driving a goods vehicle travelling no more than 50 metres between delivery stops
    • Are a licensed taxi driver who is ‘plying for hire’ or carrying passengers  (all passengers using taxis and private hire vehicles must wear seatbelts)
    • Have a ‘Certificate of Exemption from Compulsory Seatbelt Wearing’ issued by a doctor for medical reasons. You must tell your insurer about this certificate, always keep it in your vehicle, and show it to the police if you’re stopped

    Typically, if your vehicle has broken, worn or missing seatbelts, it will not pass its MOT. However, although all car manufacturers have had to install seatbelts since 1965, some classic cars that pre-date this do not have seatbelts.
    If your vehicle was originally made without seatbelts, you are not allowed to carry any children under three years old in it, and children over three are only allowed to sit in the back seats.
    For more information about when it is not compulsory to wear a seatbelt, visit Gov.uk.

    Who is responsible?

    Woman in white driving a car

    The driver of a vehicle is responsible for making sure he or she is wearing a seatbelt. They are also responsible for ensuring any children in the vehicle are wearing the appropriate child restraints or seatbelts. All adult passengers (for the purposes of seatbelt law this is defined as those over 14 years old) take responsibility for wearing their own seatbelts.

    Seatbelt legislation at a glance

    The below table has been produced using information from ROSPA – The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. It summarises the laws relating to wearing seatbelts in private vehicles.

    Person

    Front seat

    Rear seat

    Who is responsible?

    Driver

    Seatbelt must be worn if fitted

    N/A

    Driver

    Children under three years old

    Correct child restraint must be used (see ‘child car seats’ page)

    Correct child restraint must be used if available (see ‘child car seats’ page)

    Driver

    Children aged three years old and above, until they reach either their 12th birthday or 135cm in height

    Correct child restraint must be used (see ‘child car seats’ page)

    Where seatbelts fitted, correct child restraint must be used (see ‘child car seats’ page)

    Driver

    Child aged 12 to 13 years old or over 135cm

    Seatbelt must be worn if fitted

    Seatbelt must be worn if fitted

    Driver

    Adult passengers (i.e. those aged over 14 years old)

    Seatbelt must be worn if fitted

    Seatbelt must be worn if fitted

    Passenger in question

    Seatbelt law for other vehicles

    Minibuses and coaches

    If a minibus or coach was registered on or after 1 October 2001, the seatbelt rules that apply are simple: the vehicle in question must be fitted with forward-facing or rear-facing seatbelts, whether carrying children or adults.

    For minibuses and coaches registered before 1 October 2001, the rules are slightly more complex. If the main purpose of the journey is to transport three or more children, minibuses and coaches registered before 1 October 2001 must have a forward-facing seat fitted with a three-point or lap seatbelt for each child.

    Minibuses: front seats

    Passengers sitting in the front seats, or any exposed seat (i.e. a seat with no seats or surfaces directly in front of it) must use the seatbelts that are provided.

    Similar to the laws that apply to children and seatbelts in cars, it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure:

    • Children under three years old use an appropriate child restraint (see ‘child car seats’ page)
    • Children between three years old and 11 years old, and under 1.5 metres tall, use an appropriate child restraint if available, or else wear the seatbelt that is fitted
    • Children aged between 12 and 13 years old (or younger but at least 1.5 metres tall) wear the seatbelt fitted

    As with cars, adult passengers (those aged 14 years old or older) are responsible for wearing their own seatbelt, and must do so in all front or exposed seats.

    Small minibuses: rear seats

    The same rules as above apply to passengers sitting in the rear seats of a small minibus – i.e. one that has an unladen weight (how much it weighs when it’s not carrying any passengers, goods or other items) of 2,540kg or less.

    It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure:

    • Children under three years old use an appropriate child restraint (see ‘child car seats’ page)
    • Children between three years old and 11 years old, and under 1.5 metres tall, use an appropriate child restraint if available, or else wear the seatbelt that is fitted
    • Children aged between 12 and 13 years old (or younger but at least 1.5 metres tall) wear the seatbelt fitted

    As with cars, adult passengers (those aged 14 years old or older) must wear a seatbelt and are personally responsible for doing so.

    Larger minibuses: rear seats

    There is no law that requires passengers in the rear seats of larger minibuses – those with an unladen weight of over 2,540kg – to wear seatbelts. However, ROSPA strongly advises that seatbelts are worn on all journeys.

    White coach on a clear road

    Coaches

    All coach passengers sitting in seats that are in line with, or in front of, the driver (apart from those on an upper deck) must use the seatbelts that are fitted. Passengers using any other seats in coaches are not required by law to wear seatbelts. However, it is strongly advised. For more information about the use of seatbelts in minibuses and coaches, see the ROSPA seatbelt law PDF.

    Stop button on a public bus

    Why don’t normal public buses have seatbelts installed?

    It may seem counter-intuitive that those passengers in the rear seats of larger minibuses and some coach seats do not have to wear seatbelts. The question could also be raised as to why there are no seatbelts installed in urban public transport buses that allow room for standing. In fact, passengers in public fare-paying buses used wholly on 30mph roads are exempt from seatbelt legislation. There appears to be three main reasons for this exemption:

    • Public buses used in urban areas tend to travel relatively slowly, often in dedicated bus lanes
    • They typically travel over short distances with frequent stops
    • The design of many urban buses makes it difficult to fit seatbelts retrospectively

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