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Seat belt law in the UK

Even a few minutes without wearing a seat belt on the road may land you an on-the-spot fine of £100 if caught. Here’s everything you need to know about wearing seat belts in the UK.

Nimisha Jain

Words by: Nimisha Jain

Published on 19 May 2023 | 0 min read

Wearing a seat belt has been mandatory by UK law since 1983 because of the pivotal role it plays in preventing injuries in the event of a crash or other accidents.
A survey by the Department of Transport found 23% of car passengers involved in fatalities caused by road collisions were not wearing a seat belt in 2021. So, what exactly are the UK laws around wearing seat belts in a car, and who all does it apply to? Keep reading to find out which passengers must wear a seat belt and who are exempted by law from wearing a seat belt.

What is the seat belt law in the UK?

It’s been a legal requirement in the UK since 1965 for all cars to have seat belts installed. And so, all passengers in a car must wear a seat belt if a seat belt has been fitted to the seat by the manufacturer.
Since 1991, this law has extended to the passengers in the rear seats - so, if your car comes with seat belts for the passengers in the back, you must wear your seat belt in the rear as well. By law, only one person should sit in a seat with a seat belt - so, despite how convenient you might think it is to sit on someone’s knee for a short trip, it’s also illegal to share a seat belt between two or more passengers. If you’re driving with children under the age of 12 or under 135cm tall, they must use the correct child car seat according to their height or weight. All children under the age of 14 must wear the appropriate child restraint or seat belt when travelling in a vehicle. If you’re unsure about which car seat to use for your child, you can find more information in our guide to child car seats.

What is the penalty for not wearing a seat belt?

If you’re caught driving without wearing a seat belt, you can face a fine of up to £500.
You can also be fined up to £500 if you’re travelling with a child under the age of 14 who’s not in the proper child seat or is travelling without wearing a seat belt or a proper restraint. In some cases, you may be offered to attend a ‘seat belt course’ instead of paying the fine. It’s an online, 30-minute course which goes over the importance of wearing a seat belt and the consequences of not wearing one. While you don’t have to pay the fine, you are required to pay for the course, which costs £52.80.

Are there any exemptions to wearing a seat belt?

You may be exempt from wearing a seat belt in a car in some cases. This includes:
• If you’re reversing the car • If you have a ‘certificate of exemption from compulsory seat belt wearing’ due to a medical reason – remember you must carry this at all times to prove you’re exempt • If you’re a passenger in a vehicle being used under a trade licence, and you’re investigating or remedying a mechanical fault • If you’re making delivery stops within 50 metres of range in a goods vehicle • If you’re a licenced taxi driver • If you drive a police, fire or rescue services vehicle

Do I have to wear a seat belt in a classic car?

If your classic car comes with seat belts, you legally must wear them.
Some classic cars, however, are manufactured without any seat belts – in this case, you’re allowed to drive the car, but you can’t travel with children under the age of three, while children over the age of three can only travel in the back seat of the car. Remember: you’re only allowed to travel without a seat belt in a classic car if the car was originally manufactured without it.

Do dogs have to wear a seat belt when travelling in a car?

According to the Highway Code, pet animals need to be suitably restrained so that they can’t distract you while you’re driving or injure you, themselves, or any other passengers in case you stop suddenly.
You should use a seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or a dog guard as a way to restrain your dog in the car. If you’re caught getting distracted by your dog in the car, you could end up with a hefty fine. Want to make sure that you and your furry friend travel comfortably in a car? Check out our selection of the best cars for dogs

How can I get a seat belt exemption certificate?

If you have a medical condition that may exempt you from wearing a seat belt, you should consult a medical practitioner as they will be able to assess and issue a certificate of exemption for you if appropriate. In some cases, your medical practitioner may suggest trying devices such a ‘drop link’, ‘pulla belts’ or ‘the clever clip’ to make seatbelts more comfortable to wear if you’re facing difficulties. All certificates of exemption specify how long the certificate is valid. You’re required to carry it with you whenever you’re travelling in a vehicle so that you can show it as proof if stopped by the police.

Are two-point seat belts legal in the UK?

According to the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations, all cars first used on or after 1 April 1981 must have a three-point seat belt for front seat passengers. A two-point seat belt runs from one endpoint to the other over the lap. It helps keep the passenger in the seated position if there’s a sudden break but there’s a risk of your upper body suffering from the sudden jerk. To counter this, three-point seat belts were introduced which go over the lap as well as diagonally over the shoulder and chest of the passenger. This provides a better way of securing the passengers in their seats in case of a crash. Road safety is important for keeping you and other road users safe. Find more tips and advice on how to drive safely on the road. Besides seat belts, the latest cars come with many more safety features to keep you and your loved ones safe. Browse through the new cars available today. Worried you’re not up to speed with the driving laws? Keep reading: • Using your phone while driving: what is the UK law?Booster seat and child car seat laws