Do you have to wear a seatbelt in the back seat UK? When you don’t need to wear one and fines explained

The current law on when it is compulsory to wear a seat belt, the exceptions, rules for children and whether you can get penalty points for breaking the law after Rishi Sunak was filmed not wearing a seatbelt in Blackpool.

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It appears that Rishi Sunak may have broken the law, when he was filmed in the backseat of a car without a seatbelt in Blackpool.

The Prime Minister was filmed speaking inside a moving car while he travelled through Blackpool, However, eagle-eyed users spotted that Sunak did not appear to be wearing a seatbelt. Lancashire Police has said it will probe the incident. Sunak has now responded to the video, stating that he made a “brief error of judgement”.

It comes after government said last year that it was planning to toughen up punishments for car occupants who don’t wear a seat belt after a shocking increase in the number of deaths linked to the offence.

Almost a third (30%) of car occupants killed in crashes in 2021 were not wearing a seat belt, according to official figures - a sharp jump from the 23% recorded in 2020. In response, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said it is considering introducing penalty points for the offence.

Government data on road safety has revealed that most people follow the law on wearing a seat belt but recent years have seen a drop in the proportion of drivers obey the law. DfT research shows that in 2021 94.8% of all drivers were observed using a seatbelt, compared to 96.5% in 2017.

But what is the law, what can you get fined and are there any exceptions? Here is everything you need to know.

When did seat belts become compulsory in the UK?

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.

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.

There are specific seat belt rules and exceptions for childrenThere are specific seat belt rules and exceptions for children
There are specific seat belt rules and exceptions for children

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.

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