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Drivers think UK seat-belt laws are too soft

Seat belts became compulsory in the UK on 31 January 1983, but 40 years on many drivers think the rules are too lenient

Seat belt being fastened

It’s now been 40 years since seat belt usage became mandatory in the UK on 31 January 1983, but survey data reveals drivers believe the law is too soft.

The RAC polled 1,800 people, 68 per cent of whom agreed with the motoring organisation that it should be the legal responsibility of the driver to ensure all occupants of their vehicle are wearing a seat belt. Currently, the driver is only responsible for themself and any children in the car.

In addition, 33 per cent of respondents believe that drivers should be penalised if any passengers in their car are caught without a seat belt on. At present, drivers can be fined £500 for failing to buckle up, but 24 per cent of those surveyed said that’s too lenient, with two-thirds of them arguing that penalty points should also be given out.

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Four per cent of respondents admitted to having driven without a seat belt in the last 12 months, while seven per cent had not worn one as a passenger. This is in spite of there being very few legal reasons for not wearing a seat belt, including certain medical exemptions and when reversing.

Around half of those surveyed said there should be seat belt awareness courses, while 36 per cent called for greater police presence or camera usage to catch offenders. National Highways recently conducted a trial of such cameras, which detected hundreds of drivers either not buckled up or using a mobile phone.

Simon Williams, safety spokesman at the RAC, said: “Forty years on from the introduction of what is undeniably one the most important road safety laws, it’s still the case that far too many people don’t wear seatbelts – something that’s a factor in around 30 per cent of all road deaths each year. It’s also sadly the case that people are twice as likely to die in a crash if they’re not wearing one.”

Williams called on the government to use the anniversary as an opportunity to tighten the law, increase enforcement and launch a national advertising campaign around seat belts.

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