AC Buzz

Why do so many drivers shun seatbelts?

It is more than 30 years since it became illegal to drive without a seatbelt, yet up to two million drivers in the UK are still risking it, with 47% not knowing it could incur a fine, according to a new survey. Why is that, asks Luke Jones.

Even before it became law in 1983, television screens were filled with hard-hitting and sometimes harrowing seatbelt safety ads.

In 1963, viewers were told “the difference between an ugly smash-up and just a nasty shake-up could simply be the seatbelt habit“.

“You know it makes sense,” the voiceover boomed. That habit was taken up by around 90% of drivers after it was put into law, according to the Department for Transport, and further campaigns, now collected on the government’s Think! website, have kept it high.

A 1960 demonstration of a crash without seatbelt. A dummy is propelled forward into the dashboard
Seatbelt safety campaigns in the 1960s…
1964 Road safety campaign - a dummy falls out of a moving car because he is not wearing a seatbelt

So how is it that a poll by LV car insurance has found that 6% of drivers in the UK are still taking to the roads without a seatbelt? According to government figures, if you have a crash, you’re twice as likely to die if you are not wearing a belt. But two million of us are doing it anyway, the poll says.

The title of that first seatbelt awareness advert was “It can’t happen to me”. According to Graham Hole, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex, that is exactly what many drivers believe today.

“Many simply do not think they’ll ever need them,” says Hole. “There is a self-serving bias where people think they are more likely to survive than other people, and less likely to ever be involved in an accident in the first place.”

Just as with drink-driving, those who return unscathed begin to think they can do it. A “constellation of riskiness” forms, which fuels more bad driving practice.

Three friends in a car - part of a 2003 campaign by Department for Transport
And a more graphic advertisement from 2003

A car crash - part of a 2003 campaign by Department for Transport

Some see it as a point of principle, while others offer a range of excuses. “One man told us he did not want to ruin his tan,” Sgt Rob Heard of Hampshire Police reported when the constabulary took part in a Europe-wide campaign to crack down on drivers not wearing seatbelts. “A couple of people stated they never wore a seatbelt and would still not wear one because they felt that was their right.”

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Belt up

  • 80,000 drivers fined so far this year for not wearing a seatbelt
  • 32% of those who don’t wear them says it’s because they forget
  • 22% because they find them uncomfortable
  • 85% of over 65s find wearing them too restricting
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Source: ICM online poll for LV car insurance

Read the full post on BBC News

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