Seat Belts: Time for Action uses data obtained from specialist Police Forensic Collision Investigators (PFCIs) by using the Freedom of Information Act. The analysis suggests that the number of fatalities could be higher than official figures (26% in 2018), published by the Department for Transport. The report is based is based on over 1,000 records obtained from PFCIs. It suggests that there were 261 deaths where a seat belt was legally required but not worn in 2018 in Great Britain (and 273 in the UK). The report also shows that seat belt status was known in 85% of fatalities where PFCI data was available compared to around 50% in Stats19 reports.

PFCI data differs to Stats19 because it is recorded by highly trained police officers and police staff specialising in fatal and serious injury collision investigation who are given more time to complete their reports, meeting a higher standard of evidence which is recognised by the courts. In contrast, Stats19 data is usually collected by response officers at the scene, by phone or online with some data based on reports by the public at a Police station, and is generally filled out before the end of a shift. And while Stats19 data records road injury collisions in Great Britain, PFCI data also includes data from Northern Ireland.

The report is a follow up to a previous PACTS report on seat belts, Seat Belts: The Forgotten Road Safety Priorityit reiterates the recommendations of the previous report and adds to its statsitical analysis through the use of PFCI data.

David Davies, Executive Director, PACTS, said: “Not wearing a seat belt is one of the “fatal four” road safety risks but the one that gets least attention. Using the Freedom of Information Act, we obtained data from highly skilled Police Forensic Collision Investigators and discovered that the percentage of people dying in cars, when not wearing a seat belt, was even higher than reported in official figures last year. We also found that vital information about the causes of crashes and injury is not being routinely published. Only some PFCIs are consulted by their police colleagues and the local authorities who submit the casualty records (Stats19) to the Department for Transport for publication. This happens in some areas of the UK. We want it to become standard. This more accurate and detailed information could be used to prevent further deaths and serious injury.”

Gus Park, Managing Director of Motor Insurance at Direct Line, said: “Building on our previous research we have discovered an even larger number of people have died unbelted on our roads. It would appear the more we look at seat belt wearing rates, the more concerning the picture is. This reinforces our view there is a need to drive up seat belt wearing rates to enhance road safety and ultimately prevent unnecessary deaths. The introduction of three penalty points has made an impact in Northern Ireland. It is time to consider doing the same for England, Scotland and Wales.”

In England, Scotland and Wales the current penalty for not wearing a seat belt, if issued a Fixed Penalty Notice, is £100, with a maximum penalty of £500 if taken to court.

However, penalty points were introduced for seat belt non-use in Northern Ireland in 2007 where drivers can receive points for not wearing a seat belt themselves or carrying an unbelted passenger who is under the age of 14. This has contributed to an increase in wearing rates. PFCI data also suggests that Northern Ireland has the best record of any UK nation on seat belt usage.

The British public overwhelmingly support the introduction of penalty points for those found not to be wearing a seat belt when driving, with more than seven in ten (72 per cent) backing a change to the law according to a survey conducted by Direct Line.

In addition, this report shows the value of PFCI data and the insights it provides regarding seat belt wearing. It is likely this would apply to other key contributory factors, particularly the fatal 4 (seat belts, speed, alcohol/drugs and distraction). While recognising that issues around confidentiality must be considered, PACTS recommends that:

  • PFCI data should routinely be stored in and available to accredited analysts through a searchable database;
  • Road safety teams and roads police from relevant authorities or partnerships should routinely review PFCI reports for fatal collisions to learn from them;
  • Stats19 data for a fatal or serious collision should be checked for accuracy against the relevant PFCI report for seat belt wearing, where available, by the police force or local authority before Stats19 data is provided to the DfT.
  • These checks could include other significant contributory factors, particularly the fatal 4.