Seatbelt law and the consequence of not wearing one 

It is well established that where seatbelts are fitted in a car they should be worn so it is a concern to note from the provisional road casualty statistics for the year 2021 collated by the Department for Transport that 30% of car occupant fatalities in reported road traffic collisions were not wearing a seatbelt.  

Wearing a seatbelt not only helps protect your safety, but also others particularly if you are a rear seat passenger. A rear seat passenger not wearing a seatbelt is at risk of being thrown forward in a collision striking the back of the head of either the front seat passenger or driver causing them further injury. If you are a front seat passenger or driver not wearing a seatbelt you could be propelled through the windscreen.

I set out below the current position of the criminal law, Highway Code, and potential effect in a civil personal injury claim of not wearing a seatbelt in a motor car. 

Seatbelts and criminal law

The driver of a motor car is responsible for themselves to wear a seatbelt as well as any passenger in the car below the age of 14. A passenger above the age of 14 is responsible for themselves.

If the car passenger is a child then it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that they are in the correct car seat for their height or weight until they reach 135cm tall or their 12th birthday, whichever is first. A child must wear a seatbelt if they are 12 or 13 years old, or younger and over 135cm tall. 

A failure to wear a seatbelt could result in a Fixed Penalty Notice fine of £100 and should the matter proceed to Court then a fine of up to £500 could be given. 

There are some limited exemptions, permitting not wearing of a seatbelt which are:- 

  1. A driver who is reversing, or supervising a learner driver who is reversing; 
  2. In a vehicle being used for police, fire and rescue services; 
  3. A passenger in a trade vehicle and you’re investigating a fault;
  4. Driving a goods vehicle on deliveries that is travelling no more than 50 metres between stops
  5. A licensed taxi driver who is “plying for hire” or carrying passengers 
  6. Your doctor, for a medical reason, may have given you a “Certificate of Exemption from Compulsory Seat Belt Wearing”. 

If your car was originally manufactured without seatbelts, for example a classic car, then you are not permitted to carry any children under 3 years old in it. Children over 3 are only allowed to sit in the back seats.  

What the highway code says

The Highway Code at Rule 99 provides a helpful Table summarising the main legal requirements for wearing seatbelts in cars, vans and other goods vehicles:- 

Seatbelts and civil law

Having established above that it is a criminal offence not to wear a seatbelt, unless an exemption applies or the car was not manufactured with a seatbelt, it will not be at all surprising that equally not wearing a seatbelt in a car has a potential effect on a civil claim for personal injury compensation. 

The issue of not wearing a seatbelt in a car was considered in the case of Froom -v- Butcher [1976] Q.B which gave the following guidance:- 

  1. If the belt would have made no difference at all then no deduction is made.
  2. If the belt would have reduced the injuries, then a deduction of 15% is made.
  3. If the wearing of the belt would have avoided the injuries completely, then a deduction of 25% is usually made.

In essence, a failure to wear a seatbelt in a car has the potential in a successful personal injury claim to reduce the award of compensation by a percentage. For example, if on a 100% basis the award of compensation is £1,000,000 but it was either agreed or determined that a 15% reduction for having not worn a seatbelt should be applied then you would receive £850,000 which is an expensive avoidable reduction had a seatbelt been worn. 

The last word

Wearing a seatbelt saves lives, potentially your own.  A seatbelt could also reduce the severity of the injury that may be sustained in a road crash. For the sake of a few moments to “clunk click” the seatbelt it could make all the difference. 

How Moore Barlow can help

Matthew Claxson is a solicitor and a partner in the Serious Injury team acting for clients with significant injury to access rehabilitation, interim payments and compensation to help rebuild their lives. 

If you have as a result of a road traffic collision sustained serious injury then contact one of our specialist personal injury solicitors on either Freephone 0800 157 7611 or by email