UK seat belt law: The fine for breaking the rules and when and where you don’t need to wear one

The current law on when you must wear a seat belt, the exceptions, rules for children and whether you can get penalty points for breaking the law

Seat belts are compulsory for drivers and passengers in most circumstances
Seat belts are compulsory for drivers and passengers in most circumstances

Millions of motorists are risking their safety and flouting the law by failing to wear a seat belt, according to new research.

A study by road safety charity Brake found that more than a third of drivers aged 25-34 admitted to ocassionally or regularly driving without a seat belt, along with more than a quarter of those aged 18-24.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The report found that while most people said they ocassionally forgot, 9% of 25-34-year-olds and 6% of 18-24-year-olds said they sometimes deliberately chose not to belt up.

The report comes in the wake of proposals to change current road safety laws could soon seen drivers who fail to wear a seat belt hit with penalty points.

In some limited situations delivery drivers are exempt from having to wear a seat belt

If the planned change goes ahead it could even see repeat offenders banned from the roads under totting rules, changing the current rules where the only punishment is a fine.

Despite the law being in place for 30 years, thousands of people continued to flout the rules and government figures show that almost a quarter of all people killed in crashes in 2019 were not wearing a seat belt.

Wearing a seat belt has been compulsory in the UK for drivers and front seat passengers since 1983 and for rear seat passengers since 1991 (1989 for under-14s).

Although the regulations state that you must wear a seat belt, there are certain exceptions to the rules so here we break down exactly what the law says on when you do and don’t need to belt up.

When you must wear a seat belt

You must wear a seat belt in cars, vans and other goods vehicles if one is fitted. Adults, and children aged 14 years and over, must use a seat belt, where fitted, when seated in minibuses, buses and coaches.

When you don’t need to wear a seat belt

There are, however, a few exemptions. You don’t need to wear a seat belt if you’re:

  • a driver who is reversing, or supervising a learner driver who is reversing
  • in a vehicle being used for police, fire and rescue services
  • a passenger in a trade vehicle and you’re investigating a fault
  • driving a goods vehicle on deliveries that is travelling no more than 50 metres between stops
  • a licensed taxi driver who is “plying for hire” or carrying passengers
  • You have a medical exemption from your doctor

You also don’t need to wear one if your vehicle did not originally come with seat belts, for example if it is a classic car built before 1965. In this instance you mustn’t carry children under the age of three, and over-threes must sit in the back seats.

Seat belt law for children

Children under three must be seated in a suitable car seat with restraints. The only exception is when travelling in a taxi, when they do not need to be restrained.

There are specific seat belt rules and exceptions for children

Children aged 3-12 (or up to 1.35m tall) must use a suitable child restraint, such as a car seat with a harness or a booster seat. They may use an adult belt without a child seat in a taxi or minicab where no child restraint is available or for reasons of unexpected necessity over a short distance, or if two occupied restraints prevent fitment of a third.

Children aged 12 and up (or more than 1.35m tall) must wear a seat belt.

Who is responsible?

Adults and children over the age of 14 are responsible for ensuring they wear a seat belt. For children under 14, the driver is responsible.

What is the fine for not wearing a seat belt?

Currently, the fine for not wearing a seat belt is £100 or up to £500 if you’re taken to court.

In Northern Ireland, you will also have three penalty points added to your driving licence.

There are also moves to add penalty points to the punishment in England, Scotland and Wales.