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Seat belt legislation

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Seat belt legislation

Seat belt legislation requires the fitting of seat belts to motor vehicles and the wearing of seat belts by motor vehicle occupants. Laws requiring the fitting of seat belts to cars have in some cases been followed by laws mandating their use, with the effect that thousands of deaths on the road have been prevented. Different laws apply in different countries to the wearing of seat belts.


  • National comparisons 1
    • Australia 1.1
    • Canada 1.2
    • United Kingdom 1.3
    • United States 1.4
    • Developing countries 1.5
  • Effects 2
  • Opposition 3
    • Risk compensation and other theories 3.1
    • Individual liberty 3.2
    • Side-effects of seat belts 3.3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References and further reading 6
  • External links 7

National comparisons


In Australia, the use of seat belts by all vehicle passengers is compulsory. The states of Victoria and South Australia introduced a requirement for belt anchorages in 1964, although not for the belts themselves.[1] In 1970, the use of seat belts by vehicle occupants was made compulsory in the state of Victoria, followed by the rest of Australia and some other countries during the 1970s and 1980s. The subsequent dramatic decline in road deaths, equivalent to thousands of lives saved in Australia alone, is generally attributed to seat belt laws and subsequent road safety campaigns.[2][3][4] Seat belts are not required for bus occupants, reversing drivers, and those driving some slow moving vehicles. The laws for these differ depending on the state or territory with jurisdiction.


All provinces in Canada have primary enforcement seat belt laws. In 1976, Ontario was the first province to pass a law which required vehicle occupants to wear seat belts.[5]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, seat belts must be worn at all times if they are fitted to a vehicle. Passengers may be exempt from wearing a seat belt for different reasons. Since September 18, 2006, children travelling in the UK must also use an appropriate child seat in addition to the standard seat belt, unless they are 12 years old and/or have reached at least 135 centimetres (53 in) in height.[6]

In the UK, a requirement for anchorage points was introduced in 1965, followed by the requirement in 1968 to fit three-point belts in the front outboard positions on all new cars and all existing cars back to 1965. Successive UK Governments proposed, but failed to deliver, seat belt legislation throughout the 1970s.[7] In one such attempt in 1979 similar claims for potential lives and injuries saved were advanced. William Rodgers, then Secretary of State for Transport in the Callaghan Labour Government (1976–1979), stated: "On the best available evidence of accidents in this country - evidence which has not been seriously contested - compulsion could save up to 1000 lives and 10,000 injuries a year."[8]

United States

Seat belt use by type of law in the US, 2008

In the United States, seat belt legislation varies by state. The state of Wisconsin introduced legislation in 1961 requiring seat belts to be fitted to the front outboard seat positions of cars.[9] Seat belts have been mandatory equipment since the 1968 model year per Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

New York State passed the first law in the US mandating the use of seat belts in 1984 under the leadership of John D. States, an orthopedic surgeon who dedicated his career to improving automotive safety.[10] Depending on which state a driver is in, not wearing a seat belt in the front seat is either a primary offense or a secondary offense, with the exception of New Hampshire, which does not have a law requiring people over age 18 to wear a seat belt. In the front seat, the driver and each passenger must wear a seat belt, one person per belt. In some states, such as New York, New Hampshire, and Michigan, belts in the rear seats are not mandatory for people over the age of 16, though it is extremely advised. The driver and front-seat passengers aged 16 or older can be fined up to $50 each for failure to buckle up.

Seat belt use by sex, age, and type of law in the US, 2008

A primary offense means that a police officer can pull a driver over for the seat belt law violation alone, and secondary offense indicates that one can be punished for a seat belt law violation only if they are already pulled over for another reason. By January 2007 25 states and the District of Columbia had primary seat belt laws, 24 had secondary seat belt laws, and New Hampshire had no laws.[11] In 2009, Public Health Law Research published several evidence briefs summarizing the research assessing the effect of a specific law or policy on public health. One stated, "Safety belt laws work, but there is strong evidence to support that primary enforcement safety belt laws are more effective than secondary enforcement laws in increasing seat belt use and reducing crash injuries."[12]

Another found that "there is strong evidence that enhanced seat belt enforcement interventions can substantially increase seat belt use and its associated benefits."[13]

Developing countries

In many developing countries, pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaw operators and moped users represent the majority of road users.

In India, all cars manufactured after March 25, 1994 are equipped with front seat belts. The rule was extended for rear seats in 2002. The usage of seat belts is to be implemented by the respective states, with most states making seat belt usage for front seat passengers mandatory in 2002. Older vehicles that did not originally have seat belts were exempted.

In Indonesia, belts are only mandatory for front seats. Many low entry car models are not equipped with rear seat belts.[14]

In Malaysia, the first stage of safety belt laws was implemented in 1979. This was expanded in January 2009 to include rear passengers. Passenger vehicles registered prior to January 1, 1995, and those weighing more than 3.5 tons are exempted from this rule. The third and fourth stages, which will deal with baby and child seats and the number of passengers in a vehicle, have not taken effect.[15]

In the Philippines, a seat belt law, Republic Act No. 8750, was approved in August 5, 1999. The law took effect in 2000 and requires all public and private vehicles, except motorcycles and tricycles, to have their front seats equipped with seat belts. Front seats as defined by the law includes the first row of seats behind the driver for public utility buses. Those below the age of six are prohibited to occupy the front seats of motor vehicles even if wearing a seat belt. Jeepneys are only required lap belts for the front seat passengers and the driver.[16][17]

The table below gives an overview of when seat belt legislation was first introduced in different countries. It includes both regional and national legislation.

Country Compulsory wearing Compulsory fitting Source
Cars Bus passengers Cars Buses
Driver Front passengers Rear passengers
 Australia 1970 (Victoria) 1971 (NSW) 1972 (national) 1986 (child restraints)   1969, 1971 (back seat) 1983 (≤3.5 tonnes) [17][18];
 Canada 1976            
 Czech Republic 1966 (outside cities)
1990 (all)
2004 1968   [19];
 European Union 1993       [20]
 Finland 1975 1982 1987      
 France 1973 (outside cities), 1975 (cities at night), 1979 (all) 1990 2003 1967, 1978 (back seat) 2003 [21] [22]
 Germany 1976 1984 1999 1970, 1979 (back seat) 1999 Gurtpflicht
 Hungary 1976   1993       [23]
 Hong Kong 1983 1983 1996 2004 (minibuses) 1996 (back seat) 2004 (minibuses) [24]
 India         1994 (front seats), 2002 (rear seats)    
 Ireland 1979   1992   1971 (front seats), 1992 (rear seats)   [25]
 Italy 1989 1990 (where available)‡ 2006‡ 1988 (new vehicles); 1989 (all*, front seats); 1990 (new vehicles, back seats); 2000 (all*, back seats) 2006 [26]
 Japan 1971† (1985) 1971 (no fines), 1985 (fines on freeway), 1993 (all) 2008 2008 1969   [27]
 Netherlands 1976 1992   1975 (front) 1990 (rear)
 New Zealand 1972 1972 (15 years and over), 1979 (8 years and over) 1989♣   1972 (vehicles registered after 1965), 1975 (after 1955)   [28]
 Philippines 2000 (those below 6 years prohibited to occupy front seats) 2000 (first row behind the driver's seat only) 2000 [29]
 Singapore 1973 1973 1993 2008 1973    
 Spain 1975            
 Sri Lanka 2011 2011          
 Sweden 1975 1986 1969 (front) 1970 (rear) 2004 [30] [31]
 Thailand 1996 2009          
 United Kingdom 1983 1991 2006 (exemption on 30 miles per hour roads) 1967 (front) 1987 (rear) RoSPA
 United States 1984 Front lap 1965 model year; front shoulder & rear lap 1968; 3-point front 1974 [32]

* - actually only vehicles registered after 15 June 1976; in previous registered vehicles fitting is optional
† - required by the law, but no penalty for violation at the time
‡ - required by the law, but low enforcement
♣ - definitely introduced by this date, possibly earlier


Lives saved by seat belts and airbags in the United States (1991–2001)

Studies by road safety authorities conclude that seat belt legislation has reduced the number of casualties in road accidents.

Experiments using both crash test dummies and human cadavers also indicated that wearing seat belts should lead to reduced risk of death and injury in car crashes.

Studies of accident outcomes suggest that fatality rates among car occupants are reduced by between 30 and 50 percent if seat belts are worn. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that death risks for a driver wearing a lap-shoulder seat belt are reduced by 48 percent. The same study indicated that in 2007, an estimated 15,147 lives were saved by seat belts in the United States and that if seat belt use were increased to 100 percent, an additional 5024 lives would have been saved.[18]

An earlier statistical analysis by the NHTSA claimed that seat belts save over 10,000 lives every year in the US.[19]

According to a more recent fact sheet produced by the NHTSA:

"In 2012, seat belts saved an estimated 12,174 lives among passenger vehicle occupants 5 and older. [...] Research has found that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45% and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%. [...] Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats has found them to reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants (younger than 1 year old) and by 54% for toddlers (1 to 4 years old) in passenger cars." [20]

In Victoria, Australia the use of seat belts became compulsory in 1970. By 1974 decreases of 37% in deaths and 41% in injuries, including a decrease of 27% in spinal injuries, were observed, compared with extrapolations based on pre-law trends.

By 2009, despite large increases in population and the number of vehicles, road deaths in Victoria had fallen below 300, less than a third of the 1970 level, the lowest since records were kept, and far below the per capita rate in jurisdictions such as the United States. This reduction was generally attributed to aggressive road safety campaigns beginning with the seat belt laws.[21][22]


A number of groups and individuals are opposed to seat belt legislation. The most common grounds for opposition are:

  • The view that laws requiring the wearing of seat belts are an infringement of individual liberty.
  • Claims that official estimates of the number of lives saved by seat belts are overstated or fail to take into account additional risks for other road users.

Risk compensation and other theories

The most common basis for disputing estimates of the benefits of seat belts is risk compensation and risk homeostasis, advanced by researchers John Adams and Gerald Wilde. The idea of this theory is that, if the risk of death or injury from a car crash is reduced by the wearing of seat belts, drivers will respond by reducing the precautions they take against crashes.

Along with many others , Adams accepts the hypothesis that wearing seat belts improves a vehicle occupant’s chances of surviving a crash.[23]

In order to explain the disparity between the agreed improvement in crash survival and the observed results, Adams and Wilde argue that protecting someone from the consequences of risky behaviour may tend to encourage greater risk taking. Wilde states, "to compel a person to use protection from the consequences of hazardous driving, as seat belt laws do, is to encourage hazardous driving. A fine for non-compliance will encourage seat belt use, but the fact that the law fails to increase people's desire to be safe encourages compensatory behaviour." [24]

Studies and experiments have been carried out to examine the risk compensation theory. In one experiment subjects were asked to drive go-karts around a track under various conditions. It was found that subjects who started driving belted did not drive any slower when subsequently unbelted, but those who started driving unbelted did drive consistently faster when subsequently belted.[25] A study of habitual non-seat belt wearers driving in freeway conditions found evidence that they had adapted to seat belt use by adopting higher driving speeds and closer following distances.[26] In another study, taxi drivers who were habitual non-wearers were timed over a route with passengers who did, and others who did not, insist on the driver wearing a belt. They completed the route faster when belted.[27]

In addition to risk compensation, Adams has suggested other mechanisms that may lead to inaccurate or unsupportable predictions of positive benefits from seat belt legislation.

  • Case-control studies based on voluntary use of safety aids can attribute to the aid benefits that actually come from the risk-averse nature of those likely to use them voluntarily (confounding), particularly early adopters.
  • Fatality rates are subject to considerable stochastic noise, and comparison of single years or short periods can be misleading.

Individual liberty

Opponents have objected to the laws on libertarian principles.[28] Some do so on the grounds that seat belt laws infringe on their civil liberties. They argue that not wearing seat belts is a victimless crime as the only person harmed is the one making that decision for himself about his own life.

The counterpoint to the libertarian view toward seat belt laws is that mandatory usage may reduce injuries and deaths (while possibly increasing the number of accidents) but also reduces the economic cost to society. Another notable scenario is of rear-seated passengers being forced forward in a crash and thus inadvertently harming the driver or front passenger. A University of Wisconsin study demonstrated that car accident victims who had not worn seat belts cost the hospital (and the state, in the case of the uninsured) on average 25% more.[29]

Side-effects of seat belts

Critics have pointed to fatalities and injuries caused by wearing seat belts. In neck injury cases, the deceleration from a high-speed impact can cause a seat belt wearer's head to continue forward suddenly while the body is restrained, potentially causing paralyzing injuries. A study of such injuries notes, "Seatbelts save lives. However, they may cause injury to adjacent structures and when they malfunction can cause injury to the abdominal viscera, bony skeleton and vascular structures. The motor industry has attempted to reduce these injuries by modification of vehicle design and safety equipment."[30]

It was long thought to be a side-effect, but rather it is a psychological reflex that risk compensation is used as a result of some seat belt use.

See also


  1. ^ "A Potted Seat Belt History". Drivers Technology. 
  2. ^ Milne, P.W. "Fitting and Wearing of Seat Belts in Australia: The history of a successful countermeasureA" (PDF). February, 1985. Department of Transport; Federal Office of Road Safety, Australian Government Publishing Service. Retrieved 15 March 2013. 
  3. ^ Helena Webb (15 August 2006). "Loose belts lose lives". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 
  4. ^ 2005 Regulatory Impact Statement - Seat belt legislation amendments
  5. ^ "Seatbelts Saving Lives In Ontario For 35 Years" (Press release). Ministry of Transportation, Ontario. December 2010. 
  6. ^ "Wearing a seat belt and exemptions". Directgov. 
  7. ^ "RoSPA History - How Belting Up Became Law".  
  8. ^ "RoSPA History - How Belting Up Became Law" (PDF).  
  9. ^ "The History of Seat Belt Development". School Transportation News. STN Media Group. Retrieved 2011-06-20. 
  10. ^ Click it or ticket
  11. ^ "Most Wanted". National Transportation Safety Board. 
  12. ^ "Primary Enforcement of Safety Belt Laws". Public Health Law Research. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. December 7, 2009. 
  13. ^ "Enhanced Enforcement of Safety Belt Laws". Public Health Law Research. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2009. 
  14. ^ "Indonesia". US Department of State. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  15. ^ "All must belt up in MPVs".  
  16. ^ "Republic Act No. 8750". LAWPHiL. Eleventh Congress of the Philippines. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  17. ^ Crisostomo, Sheila (1 May 2000). "Seat Belt Law takes effect today". The Philippine Star. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  18. ^ "Lives Saved Calculations for Seat Belts and Frontal Air Bags" (PDF).  
  19. ^ Glassbrenner, Donna. "Estimating The Lives Saved By Safety Belts and Air Bags" (PDF).  
  20. ^ "Traffic Safety Facts - 2012 Data - Occupant Protection" (PDF).  
  21. ^ Sexton, Reid (27 December 2009). "Victoria's road toll at record low". Retrieved 21 November 2010. 
  22. ^ Lucas, Clay (9 July 2010). "How low can we go?". Retrieved 21 November 2010. 
  23. ^ John Adams (2006). "The Failure of Seat Belt Legislation" (PDF). John Adams. Retrieved 2010-03-04.  (primary source)
  24. ^ Wilde GJS (1994). Target Risk. Toronto: PDE Publications.  
  25. ^ Streff FM, Geller ES (August 1988). "An experimental test of risk compensation: between-subject versus within-subject analyses". Accident Analysis and Prevention 20 (4): 277–87.  
  26. ^ Janssen W (April 1994). "Seat belt wearing and driving behaviour: An instrumented-vehicle study". Accident Analysis and Prevention 26 (2): 249–2.  
  27. ^ Wilde GJS (1994). Target Risk (1st ed.).  
  28. ^ Jeff Jacoby (August 25, 1994). "Unbuckling the Voters" (Op-Ed). Boston Globe. 
  29. ^ Marion Ceraso; Keri Frisch; Stephen Hargarten; Timothy Corden (September 2006). "Primary Enforcement of Seatbelt Laws: A Means for Decreasing Injuries, Deaths and Crash-Related Costs in Wisconsin?" (PDF) 7 (1). University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. 
  30. ^ Smith, J. E. (2005). Injuries caused by seatbelt - Trauma. pp. Vol. 7, No. 4, 211–215. Retrieved 21 November 2010. 

References and further reading

  • John Adams (1995). Risk. Routledge.  
  • Wilde G.S. Target Risk PDE Publications, 1994
  • The Isles report "Seat belt savings: Implications of European Statistics", UK DoT, 1981, Sourced from Death on the Streets, Cars and the Mythology of Road Safety by Robert Davis, Leading Edge Press, North Yorkshire UK, 1992 and "Report questions whether seat belts save lives" by M. Hamer, New Scientist, 7 February 1985 p7
  • Evaluation of Automobile Safety Regulations: The case of Compulsory Seat Belt Legislation in Australia. by J.A.C. Coneybeare, Policy Sciences 12:27-39, 1980
  • Compulsory Seat Belt Use: Further Inferences, by P. Hurst Accident Analysis and Prevention., Vol 11: 27-33, 1979
  • Wilde G. S. Risk Homeostasis and Traffic Accidents Propositions, Deductions and Discussion of Dissension in Recent Reactions, Ergonomics 1988 Vol, 31, 4:439
  • Methodological Issues in Testing the Hypothesis of Risk Compensation by Brian Dulisse, Accident Analysis and Prevention Vol. 25 (5): 285-292, 1997
  • RS 255 The initial impact of seat belt legislation in Ireland by R. Hearne, An Foras Forbatha, Dublin, 1981
  • The efficacy of seat belt legislation: A comparative study of road accident fatality statistics from 18 countries, by J. Adams. Department of Geography University College, London 1981
  • Casualty Reductions, Whose Problem? By F. West-Oram, Traffic Engineering and Control, September 1990
  • The Puzzle of Seat Belts Explained, Press Release of the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society, April 1999
  • Reconsidering the effects of seat belt Laws and Their Enforcement Status by T.S. Dee Accident Analysis and Prevention., Vol 30(1): 1-10, 1998

External links

Links to sites/studies that endorse seat belts:

  • U.S. Department of Transportation: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA): Occupant Protection
  • PDF Seat Belt Wearing in Scotland: A Second Study of Compliance
  • UK Department for Transport: THINK! Road Safety
  • Prevention Institute: Seatbelts: Current Issues
  • Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 85, pp. 828-843, 2003
  • by P.W. Milne (With updates by the Department of Transport Federal Office of Road Safety)., Australian Government Publishing Service, 1985Fitting and wearing of seat belts in Australia - The history of a successful countermeasure

Links to sites/studies skeptical/critical of seat belt legislation:

  • Seatbelt Laws - Why You Should be worried
  • Stick It to Click It or Ticket (SITCIOT)
  • The Coalition for Seat Belt Choice
  • Do Seat Belt Laws Work?
  • Seat Belt Laws: A Clumsy Perspective by Professor John Adams pdf-format
  • Review of Seat Belt Effectiveness
  • Link to article on the Hawaii seat belt law
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