PACTS launches new report: ‘Seat Belts: The Forgotten Road Safety Priority’

PACTS launches new report: ‘Seat Belts: The Forgotten Road Safety Priority’

A report published by PACTS, in association with Direct Line Group, on the 30th of April 2019 reveals the problem of seat belt non-wearing in the UK.

Seat Belts: The Forgotten Road Safety Priority shows that despite wearing rates of 98.6% for British car drivers, 27% of those who died in cars on the roads in 2017 were not wearing a seat belt. This amounts to more than 200 deaths; an additional 1,000 people were seriously injured.

Seat belt non-wearing has not received the focus it warrants in recent years, with many in the road safety community having viewed seat belt legislation as a ‘job well done’. This report identifies key characteristics of people who are dying and being seriously injured as well as the situations in which they are crashing. It also reveals the most significant reasons for not wearing and interventions which should be employed to increase seat belt wearing and reduce death and serious injury on UK roads.

The report recommends:


  • Strong steps should be taken to increase seat belt wearing. This should take the form of a cohesive campaign which combines amplified, better designed education; stronger, disincentivising penalties; increased, targeted enforcement and effective technological interventions.
  • The road safety profession needs to be more aware of the importance of seat belt wearing and the significant impact increased wearing rates could have on preventing deaths and serious injuries. A focus on preventing injury is needed in addition to that on avoiding collisions.


  • Not wearing a seat belt should be made an endorsable offence, with three penalty points issued in addition to the current £100 fine.


  • Enforcement of the seat belt law should be significantly enhanced through intelligence led, targeted measures. The profile of enforcement and the perceived likelihood of being caught should be raised.
  • Camera technology has great enforcement potential. It should be developed further and its use expanded. Clarity should be offered to all police forces on image quality needed for prosecutions.


  • Existing road safety education activities should be reviewed to see if seat belt wearing is given due prominence.
  • Well researched and planned education campaigns should be undertaken to reinforce the social norms of seat belt wearing while building public support for increased enforcement and penalties. Education methods must be based on sound principles of behaviour change and care should be taken with use of shock tactics. These campaigns need to target high risk groups whilst recognising that seat belt non-wearing continues throughout the whole UK population.


  • Euro NCAP and others should continue to encourage manufacturers to develop additional voluntary safety features for new vehicles that could encourage seat belt wearing and improve the effectiveness of seat belts.

Data and further research

  • Police forces should be required to continue to collect information on seat belt wearing for all deaths and serious injuries in Stats19 reports. Where a police forensic collision investigation has been undertaken, the investigators review the Stats19 data. This principle should apply to seat belt wearing and could be applied more widely.
  • DfT should continue to commission observational seat belt wearing surveys, at least every two years, and look at ways to improve the methodology, particularly using new technology.
  • DfT should undertake regular surveys of driver attitudes towards seat belt wearing, ideally as part of a broader survey of car-user attitudes towards road safety.
  • Further analysis should be undertaken of the profile of non-wearers and of collisions in which those who were killed and seriously injured were not wearing a seat belt. This should include covariate analysis which controls for the effects of other influences while recognising the limitations imposed by limited recording of wearing or otherwise of seat belts.

David Davies, Executive Director, PACTS, said

With the vast majority of drivers and passengers regularly wearing a seat belt, we thought this was a problem solved. It has been a shock to find that more than a 1 in 4 people killed in a car were not wearing a seat belt. In the event of a collision, wearing a seat belt is the single most effective thing that a driver or passenger can do to avoid serious injury.

This report shows the road safety community has taken its eye off the ball. It points to ways to increase wearing among the minority who forget or chose not to do so. In particular, PACTS recommends making it an endorsable offence, with three penalty points. This would have no impact on most drivers or passengers but could substantially reduce the 1,200 people killed or seriously injured each year.

The report can be read in full here.

You can also hear Policy and Research Officer Evan Webster talk about the research on the RSGB podcast here

This research by PACTS has been supported by Direct Line Group.

Direct Line Group undertook separate research into public attitudes to changing the penalties for not wearing a seat belt while driving. Their research is here.


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