Warning: drivers may face penalty points for not wearing seat belt!

29th July 2019 Driving Offences

The BBC News on 19 July 2019 and The Express on 20 July commented upon the new proposed penalty for failing to wear a seat belt as a driver.

The proposal is that the non-wearing of a seat belt whilst driving should be an endorsable offence with a penalty of 3 points, in addition to the current £100 fine.

Where has it come from?

The proposal comes as part of a newly published Road Safety Action Plan from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS). The action plan consists of seventy-four proposals and focuses on actions for the next 2 years. PACTS have stated:

We are also very pleased that measures to increase seat belt wearing feature so prominently, based on the recent PACTS/ Direct Line report.

The PACTS and Direct Line report was published earlier in April 2019 and was entitled “Seat Belts: The Forgotten Road Safety Priority„. The report highlighted the following statistics:

  • In 2017, 27% of those who died in cars were not wearing a seat belt;

  • Over 200 each year die in cars while not wearing a seat belt; and

  • A further, 1,000 are seriously injured each year.

Barry Sheerman MP also stated in the report, about the shocking case of Diana, Princess of Wales: “I recall not only the terrible tragedy but also that she would have almost certainly survived the crash if she had worn a seat belt.

The report provided an insight into the reasons for not wearing seat belts and the effectiveness of potential interventions to increase seat belt wearing. Such insight gave rise to the recommendation that the non-wearing of a seat belt whilst driving should be an endorsable offence with a penalty of 3 points, in addition to the current £100 fine.

So, what is the law with regard to driving without wearing a seatbelt?

The Offence

The law as it currently stands comes from section 14 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the regulations made under this section, of which there are many but the key regulations are as follows: the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts in Rear Seats by Adults) Regulations 1991; the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts by Children in Front Seats) Regulations 1991; and the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) Regulations 1993.

The regulations make it compulsory for all people to wear seat belts in cars at all times, save for a few exceptions.

The general rule is that you must wear a seat belt if one is fitted in the seat you’re using and only 1 person in each seat fitted with a belt.

Children must be in the correct car seat for their height, or weight until they reach 135cm or 14 years old.

What are the exceptions?

The exceptions are set out in regulation 5 of the 1991 regulations and include:

  • Drivers who are reversing, or supervising a learner who is reversing;

  • Those in a vehicle being used by the police, fire and rescue services;

  • A passenger in a trade vehicle who is investigating a fault;

  • A driver of goods vehicle making deliveries who is travelling no more than 50 metres between stops;

  • Licensed taxi drivers who are plying for hire or carrying passengers and licensed private hire drivers who a carrying passengers;

  • Those who are medically exempt and carry a “certificate of exemption from compulsory seat belt wearing„ or wearing a disabled person’s belt; and

  • A person riding in a vehicle which is taking part in a procession organised by or on behalf of the Crown.

In addition a vehicle that doesn’t have seat belts, e.g. a classic car, is exempt. However, you cannot carry any children under 3 years old in the vehicle.

What sentence can I receive if found to be guilty of driving without wearing a seatbelt?

The offence since 1981 has carried a fixed penalty notice. However, the fine has increased and decreased over the years in line with Fixed Penalty Notices, which used to be £50 in 1981 and is now £100 since 2013.

The liability rests with the individual and so both drivers since 1981, and passengers since 1983, could be hit with an on-the-spot Fixed Penalty Notice. If the matter is prosecuted i.e. goes to court (generally because you dispute the fixed penalty notice) then the maximum fine is £500.

The driver is responsible for each child passenger and so can receive a fine of up to £500 for each child passenger aged up to 14 years.

In addition, certain local authorities and police work in conjunction with the TTC Group which means that you can attend a course as opposed to paying the fine. The course is entitled the TTC Group Seat Belt Awareness Course and so may provide an alternative to paying a fine.

The Proposed Change in Law

The change in law relates to the penalty imposed upon the driver at current and adds onto the Fixed Penalty Notice the possibility of receiving 3 points onto your licence.

It remains unclear as to whether or not passengers in the vehicles could risk penalty points or whether the driver would be liable to receive 3 penalty points for permitting the passenger to not wear their seat belt.

In addition, it is unclear as to whether or not the penalty imposed for ensuring that children are wearing their seat belts will be changed too.

From a liability perspective this poses some concern, and will require some very specific drafting when it comes to amending the regulations from a legislative point view.

Enforcement

PACTS also recommends significantly enhancing enforcement of the seat belt law through targeted, intelligence-led measures including new camera technology. Efforts should also be made to increase the public perception of enforcement as the evidence shows that this has a significant impact on seat belt wearing.„

The above paragraph highlights the recommendations from the PACTS report and given the complexity and high level technology that is ever increasing in our day to day motor vehicles and life in general, it is not beyond our imagination to conceive of such new camera technology and even self-reporting cars in relation to seat belt monitoring.

However, whilst such technology may be a possibility and may inevitably become part of the enforcement process, it remains an unprecedented element. And as with all new technology it may have its snagging list and its own technical fault which may present further defences and/or exemptions to the seat belt rule.

How can we help?

Whilst we eagerly await the new technology and even the new legislation, we want to remind you that our Specialist Motoring team have extensive experience in providing advice and guidance on the offences outlined above and various driving offences. If you have received any correspondence in respect of the above offences or are concerned in general about driving offences, please feel free to get in touch with a member of our team on 03458726666.

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Hojol Uddin is a Partner and Head of Motoring Department located in Manchesterin our Driving Offences department

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