Drivers should be responsible for ensuring all their passengers wear seatbelts and face larger fines for not buckling up, according to a new study by the RAC.
Research that coincides with the 40th anniversary of the UK’s seatbelt law found that more than two-thirds of motorists (68%) believe drivers should be penalised if their passengers aren’t wearing a seatbelt.
The study also found that a quarter of motorists (24%) believe the current law – where a driver can be fined up to £500 for not buckling up – is too lenient, with a clear majority of these (69%) thinking that those who break the law should pay both a fine and receive at least three points on their licences.
Simon Williams, RAC road safety spokesman, 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% 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.
“The statistics are stark, yet some people are still prepared to take the risk and not wear a seatbelt. This obviously begs the question what can be done next. Today’s anniversary, perhaps, provides the ideal moment for the Government to show it’s serious about improving safety on our roads and put an action plan in place for getting more of us to buckle up in the first place.”
Four per cent of drivers – the equivalent of around 1.7m full driving licence holders in Great Britain – admit to driving without a seatbelt over the last 12 months, with around a fifth of these (22%) saying they don’t belt up at least half the time. In contrast, 7% of respondents admitted to not wearing a seatbelt when travelling as passengers in other vehicles. Drivers only have responsibility to make sure they and any children in their vehicles are buckled up properly.
Williams added: “Our research shows drivers are clearly supportive of greater penalties, which we know the Government is considering. But arguably, toughening the law isn’t enough: drivers need to think there’s a good chance of being caught in the first place. If they don’t, there’s every chance they’ll carry on as normal – just as we see day-in, day-out with plenty of drivers still prepared to illegally use a handheld phone while behind the wheel.”
Seatbelt laws are at risk of being lost or watered down, accroding to RoSPA. The road safety organisation said that while seatbelt usage features in the Road Safety Act, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 is set to make critical information on who, where and when people should wear seatbelts unclear.
Nathan Davies, head of policy at RoSPA, said: “Wearing a seatbelt is not just ‘common sense’. Making seatbelts a legal requirement changed behaviour, and drove up usage by 55 per cent almost immediately. But recent Department for Transport data shows us that compliance is the lowest it has ever been since the law was introduced, and that means that people still need laws which reinforce the importance for them and the other occupants of vehicles. By removing seatbelt laws, we expect usage to fall, and fatalities will then inevitably increase.
“Throwing vital seatbelt laws in the air at a time they are most needed will set the stage for thousands of the public being killed and injured on the road, leaving behind loved ones, friends and family. We must not throw away the progress made over last 40 years of mandatory seatbelt usage and urge the Government to tackle these vital laws with the time, respect and attention they deserve.”