Few of us (actually, about 1 in 20 according to DfT figures) would even consider driving without wearing a seat belt, yet even though it became mandatory for cars to be fitted with seat belts back in 1965 it would be a further 18 years before we were compelled to use them (the penalty for not doing so is now a £60 fine).
So why was the process so drawn out? Part of the issue was civil liberties. The law was effectively looking to protect drivers from themselves and many believed that to force the wearing of seat belts was a state infringement of basic civil liberties. Today there are still around 1 in twenty of us refuses to belt up and those who flout the law are more likely to be killed in an accident. According to the DfT: “In 2009, of the 1,059 car occupants killed in crashes, 21% were not wearing a seat belt.”
In 2009, of the 1,059 car occupants killed in crashes, 21% were not wearing a seatbelt
Below is a brief timeline on how the seat belt law finally came about.
1970s – Various bills calling for the introduction of the wearing of seat belts were defeated in the Houses of Parliament.
1978-79 – Labour MP William Rodgers saw his private members bill get through two readings, but it had to be dropped after his party lost the 1979 general election.
1979-80 – A similar bill introduced by Neil Carmichael also failed.
1980 – Lord Nugent of Guildford, President of RoSPA, introduced a bill via the upper house. But even though it had a majority at second reading it failed for ‘procedural reasons’.
1981 – Lord Nugent tried again, this time with an amendment to the Transport Bill which would lead to a three-year trial of seat belts. This bill became law… with the amendment.
1983, 31st January – The wearing of seat belts in the front of cars came into force.
1986 – At the end of the three-year trial both MPs and Lords voted overwhelmingly to make the requirement permanent.
1989 – It became mandatory for children sitting in the rear of cars to wear a seat belt.
1991 – Wearing a seat belt in the back of a car became compulsory for all.