Can you drive without wearing your seatbelt?

When may you drive without wearing your seatbelt?

Seatbelts are there to help keep you safe, as are seatbelt laws. So while seatbelts may not be everyone’s favourite thing to wear, it’s generally a good idea. Most of the time — in fact, nearly all the time — you’re legally required to wear a seatbelt in the UK.

Honestly, it’s best to think of it almost like a kind of Car Insurance, you’re protecting yourself, similar to the way it’s best to keep on top of home maintenance as a way to keep your home protected, in addition to your official Home Insurance policy.

You’re not required by law to wear a seatbelt if:

  • You’re driving and are reversing
  • You’re supervising a learner driver who is reversing
  • You’re in an emergency services vehicle (police, fire and rescue)
  • You’re a passenger in a trade vehicle looking into a fault, like a neighbourhood power outage
  • You’re a licensed taxi driver carrying passengers
  • You’re driving a delivery vehicle with no more than 50 metres between stops
  • You have a medical exemption

As an adult, you’re also required to wear your seatbelt if you’re sitting in the backseats of the car as well.

What happens if a passenger isn’t wearing a seatbelt?

If there’s a passenger not wearing a seatbelt that should be, or is trying to buckle more than one person in with a single seatbelt, you can be fined up to £500.

You must make sure that any children in the vehicle you’re driving are:

  • In the correct car seat for their height or weight until they meet height or age requirements
  • Wearing a seatbelt if they’re younger than 13 and over 135cm tall

You can be fined up to £500 if a child under 14 isn’t wearing a seatbelt or in a car seat while you’re driving.

Who is exempt from wearing a seatbelt?

Medical exemptions for wearing a seatbelt is the main exemption; there aren’t any medical conditional that mean you’re immediately exempt from wearing a seatbelt. If you’re able to find an alternative that still allows you to wear a seatbelt rather than getting an exemption, that’d likely be ideal, as many studies have proven you’re likely to be safer in an accident if you’re wearing a seatbelt than not. Some solutions include:

  • ​​Drop links: designed to lower the position of the belt and change how the diagonal sits. If a conventional diagonal crosses your neck this might be a solution to try.
  • Pulla belts: a simple sleeve added to the belt for people who can’t easily reach the top of the shoulder harness to pull a conventional belt across.
  • Clever clip or klunk klip: designed to ease tension across the chest, reduce restriction of breathing, and reduce pressure on the abdomen.

If there aren’t workable alternatives and a person gets a medical exemption, they’ll want to:

  • Keep the exemption in the car
  • Show it to the police if they’re stopped
  • Tell their car insurance provider

You’re required to wear a seatbelt if you’re pregnant, unless your doctor issues an exemption. There are ways to wear a seatbelt while pregnant and stay safe:

  • Wear a three-point seatbelt(rather than just a lap belt)
  • Make sure the shoulder belt goes over the shoulder, collarbone and down across the chest
  • A lap belt is worn as low as possible under the abdomen and the baby
  • Keep the belts tight

If your car wasn’t made with seatbelts, which could be the case with a classic car, you aren’t allowed to drive any kids under 3 years old in it. Children over 3 are only allowed to sit in the back seats. Adults are okay to not wear seatbelts.

Quick note: These rules only apply if your car was originally made without seat belts. So if they’ve been taken out since the car wa originally made, the normal rules still apply!

When did seatbelts become mandatory?

The law requiring all drivers to wear their seatbelts came into force on 31 January 1983. It was legally required for all new cars sold in the UK to have seat belts from 1987. 1989 is when it was legally required for children in backseats to wear seat belts. Finally, seatbelts became mandatory for all adults in cars, including those in the back seats, in 1991.

What about children — do they have to wear seatbelts?

Children typically need to wear car seats or booster seats until they reach either 12 years old or 135cm tall, whichever comes first.

There are both height-based and weight-based seats available. Approved height-based car seats are marked ‘E’ and ‘R129’. Approved weight-based seats are marked ‘E’ and ‘ECE R44.’

For weight-based seats, there are 5 groups to choose from, ranging from 0-10kg for newborns and 22-36kg for older children. Groups 0 and 0+ are only rear-facing for children weighing between 0-13kg. As well as using an approved car seat, it should also be fitted properly, with a diagonal strap.

There are a few conditions where children can travel without a car seat, in situations where the vehicle doesn’t have one. In those cases, the child would need to be older than 3 and travel in the back seat. Rather than using a car seat, they’re required to use an adult seatbelt.

If they’re under 3 and all other conditions apply, they can travel without a seat belt. If there isn’t room for a third car seat, children under 3 must be in a child car seat, and can travel in the front seat if required — children over 3 can sit in the back with an adult belt.

Children also include those of the furry variety — even pets and other animals should be secured in and safe in a single spot so they aren’t a distraction while you’re driving.

A few final thoughts…

Seatbelts are generally not the best thing to leave off when you head out for the day; if they are unworkable for you though, know there is an option to speak to a doctor about it. Otherwise, you could face fines at best, and a crash at worst. Honestly, it’s usually best to think of it almost like a kind of Car Insurance, you’re protecting yourself, similar to the way it’s best to keep on top of home maintenance to keep your home protected, in addition to your official Home Insurance policy. It’s a good idea to take the law to heart on this one, and try to get in the habit of wearing a seat belt.  

Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.