The Government is said to be considering introducing penalty points for those caught not wearing their seatbelt in a car after it was revealed that almost a third of people killed inside vehicles last year were not buckled up.
Latest road casualty figures show that in cases where a vehicle occupant died in accidents in 2021, 30 per cent had failed to wear their seatbelt.
Currently, a driver or passengers found not wearing one correctly can be hit with an on-the-spot fixed penalty notice of £100. However, MPs said they are considering the ‘potential merits of introducing penalty points’ for this type of offence.
Government considering tougher penalities for those who don’t buckle up: MPs said they are looking into the ‘potential merits of introducing penalty points’ after official figures revealed an alarming rise in road deaths linked to people not wearing a seatbelt last year
Katherine Fletcher, Conservative MP for South Ribble and former parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Department for Transport, responded to a question in the Commons on 27 October regarding increasing punishments for those who don’t buckle up on the back of its alarming road casualty report a month earlier.
‘The Department for Transport knows that in 2021, in 30 per cent of all car occupant fatalities recorded, seat belts were not worn,’ she said.
‘This is unacceptably high, and we have been considering options to tackle this including the potential merits of introducing penalty points.’
Ms Fletcher stepped down from her DfT role the same day as part of a reshuffle of junior ministers.
She went on to say that changing rules to allow for drivers and passengers to receive points ‘might form part of the Department for Transports planned call for evidence on motoring offences’.
The plans come more than 40 years after wearing a seatbelt first became a legal requirement on Britain’s roads.
Under current rules, both drivers and passenger over the age of 14 caught by police not wearing a seatbelt should be issued a £100 fine.
However, this fine will be wavered if an offender takes a £53 awareness course instead.
Motorists transporting children under 14 years of age are deemed responsible for them too, which could result in an additional fine for each child passenger without a belt.
However, not wearing a seatbelt is currently not an endorsable offence, so you won’t be given penalty points on your licence.
With pressure mounting on ministers to cut the number of deaths on Britain’s roads, a change to these rules could receive plenty of backing.
Rise in road deaths: There were 5.2 fatalities per billion vehicle miles in 2021, which is higher than the 4.9 deaths recorded per billion miles in 2019 (as shown in the bottom right chart)
Under existing rules, both drivers and passenger over the age of 14 caught by police not wearing a seatbelt are issued with a £100 fixed penalty notice or need to sit a £53 safety awareness course
The DfT published its estimated road casualty report for 2021 in September with 1,558 people killed last year and showed that the number of fatalities per billion miles driven was higher last year than pre-pandemic levels.
However, one of the most alarming factors in the report was a resurgence in drivers and passengers failing to take legal safety precautions when inside a moving vehicle, with not wearing a seatbelt contributing to three in ten deaths in cars.
This is the highest proportion on record for road deaths linked to not being correctly restrained and is four percentage points higher than the average over the previous five years.
For deaths that occurred on roads at night, the proportion linked to not wearing a seatbelt were even higher at a ‘dreadful’ 47 per cent, additional analysis highlighted.
RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said: ‘It’s irrefutable that seatbelts save lives, yet the sad reality is that in 30 per cent of fatal collisions a seatbelt was not being worn.
‘These stark figures underline just how important it is to buckle up in both the front and the rear of the car.
It’s irrefutable that seatbelts save lives, yet the sad reality is that in 30% of fatal collisions a seatbelt was not being worn
Simon Williams, RAC road safety spokesman
‘Putting points on the licences of offenders would be a welcome move, but this must be accompanied by better enforcement.’
Increased enforcement could be achieved using the latest camera technology currently being tested by Warwickshire Police in conjunction with National Highway.
A specially-adapted van is being trialed by officers to record passing vehicles using cameras mounted to a large metal structure that extends from its roof.
This allows surveillance technology to monitor road users from an elevated position to see what is going on inside vehicles, providing a viewpoint similar to cameras installed on motorway gantries and fixed speed cameras at the roadside.
Footage captured by the Big Brother van is then analysed by artificial intelligence and humans to determine if motorists were using a handheld phone or whether anyone was not wearing a seatbelt.
In its first 64 hours in action, it identified examples of unsafe driving once every six minutes, including 512 people without a seatbelt while travelling on the M40 and A46.
On the hunt: The ‘Big Brother’ van, which has been in use since 11 July, is being used to detect motoring offences such as holding a mobile phone at the wheel or not wearing a seatbelt. In 64 hours of use, it has already caught over 500 people not wearing a seatbelt
The RAC has previously backed the introduction of this technology and again called for it to be used widely across the country to punish those who fail to belt up.
‘While up until this point offenders had to be caught not wearing a seatbelt by a police officer, there is now camera technology on trial in the UK that can be make the process far simpler and more effective,’ Mr Williams added.
‘If this technology were to be rolled out alongside introducing points on licences lives would undoubtedly be saved.’
The DfT’s road casualty data shows that those most likely to be killed while not wearing a seatbelt are younger car occupants aged 17-to-29 years at 40 per cent.
Analysis by the AA also found that there was a higher proportion of men killed in cars (34 per cent) than women (20 per cent) who were not belted up when the collision took place.
Head of road policy, Jack Cousens, described it as a ‘dreadful jump’ in people failing to secure themselves in vehicles correctly.
‘Release from pandemic lockdowns may have fuelled some of the surge, but the rate of death while not wearing a seatbelt was surging even before Covid.
‘There may need to be a road safety campaign to raise the danger once again. Clearly, the message is being forgotten.’
Increasing punishments for not belting up appropriately would follow tougher penalties imposed on those caught on the phone at the wheel in recent years.
In 2017, the Government doubled penalties for drivers found to be operating a handheld device, rising from three points and a £100 fine to six points and £200.
And earlier this year it closed all legal loopholes regarding what constitutes as ‘handling’ a phone so that motorists can no longer touch a device while in control of a vehicle.
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