Seat belt legislation
Seat belt legislation requires the fitting of seat belts to motor vehicles and the wearing of seat belts by motor vehicle occupants to be mandatory. Laws requiring the fitting of seat belts to cars have in some cases been followed by laws mandating their use, with the effect that thousands of deaths on the road have been prevented. Different laws apply in different countries to the wearing of seat belts.
In Australia, after the introduction of mandatory front outboard mounting points in 1964, the use of seat belts by all vehicle passengers was made compulsory in the states of Victoria and South Australia in 1970 and 1971, respectively. By 1973, the use of fitted seat belts by vehicle occupants was made compulsory for the rest of Australia and some other countries during the 1970s and 1980s. The subsequent dramatic decline in road deaths is generally because of seat belt laws and subsequent road safety campaigns. Seat belts are not required for bus occupants, reversing drivers, and those driving some slow-moving vehicles. The laws for these differ depending on the state or territory with jurisdiction.
In the United Kingdom, seat belts must be worn at all times if they are fitted to a vehicle unless reversing. Passengers may be exempt from wearing a seat belt for different reasons. Since September 18, 2006, children travelling in the UK must also use an appropriate child seat in addition to the standard seat belt, unless they are 12 years old and/or have reached at least 135 centimetres (53 in) in height.
In the UK, a requirement for anchorage points was introduced in 1965, followed by the requirement in 1968 to fit three-point belts in the front outboard positions on all new cars and all existing cars back to 1965. Successive UK governments proposed, but failed to deliver, seat belt legislation throughout the 1970s. Front seat belts were compulsory equipment on all new cars registered in the UK from 1972, although it did not become compulsory for them to be worn until 1983. Rear seat belts were compulsory equipment from 1986 and became compulsory for them to be worn in 1991. However, it has never been a legal requirement for cars registered before those dates to be fitted with seat belts. In one such attempt in 1979 similar claims for potential lives and injuries saved were advanced. William Rodgers, then Secretary of State for Transport in the Callaghan Labour Government (1976–1979), stated: "On the best available evidence of accidents in this country - evidence which has not been seriously contested - compulsion could save up to 1000 lives and 10,000 injuries a year."
In the United States, seat belt legislation varies by state. The state of Wisconsin introduced legislation in 1961 requiring seat belts to be fitted to the front outboard seat positions of cars. Seat belts have been mandatory equipment since the 1968 model year per Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208.
New York State passed the first law in the US mandating the use of seat belts in 1984 under the leadership of John D. States, an orthopedic surgeon who dedicated his career to improving automotive safety. Depending on which state a driver is in, not wearing a seat belt in the front seat is either a primary offense or a secondary offense, with the exception of New Hampshire, which does not have a law requiring people over age 18 to wear a seat belt. In the front seat, the driver and each passenger must wear a seat belt, one person per belt. In some states, such as New York, New Hampshire, and Michigan, belts in the rear seats are not mandatory for people over the age of 16. The driver and front-seat passengers aged 16 or older can be fined up to $50 each for failure to wear a seat belt. In California, passengers must be 15 years or older to accompany the driver in the front seat. Children 14 and younger must sit in the rear seat until they reach the age of 15.
A primary offense means that a police officer can pull a driver over for the seat belt law violation alone, and secondary offense indicates that one can be punished for a seat belt law violation only if they are already pulled over for another reason. By January 2007 25 states and the District of Columbia had primary seat belt laws, 24 had secondary seat belt laws, and New Hampshire had no laws. In 2009, Public Health Law Research published several evidence briefs summarizing the research assessing the effect of a specific law or policy on public health. One stated, "Safety belt laws work, but there is strong evidence to support that primary enforcement safety belt laws are more effective than secondary enforcement laws in increasing seat belt use and reducing crash injuries."
Another found that "there is strong evidence that enhanced seat belt enforcement interventions can substantially increase seat belt use and its associated benefits."
In many developing countries, pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaw operators and moped users represent the majority of road users.
In India, all cars manufactured after March 25, 1994 are equipped with front seat belts. The rule was extended for rear seats in 2002. The usage of seat belts is to be implemented by the respective states, with most states making seat belt usage for front seat passengers mandatory in 2002. Older vehicles that did not originally have seat belts were exempted. However, enforcement is weak in most parts of the country.
In Malaysia, the first stage of safety belt laws was implemented in 1979. This was expanded in January 2009 to include rear passengers. Passenger vehicles registered prior to January 1, 1995, and those weighing more than 3.5 tons are exempted from this rule. The third and fourth stages, which will deal with baby and child seats and the number of passengers in a vehicle, have not taken effect.
In the Philippines, a seat belt law, Republic Act No. 8750, was approved in August 5, 1999. The law took effect in 2000 and requires all public and private vehicles, except motorcycles and tricycles, to have their front seats equipped with seat belts. Front seats as defined by the law includes the first row of seats behind the driver for public utility buses. Those below the age of six are prohibited to occupy the front seats of motor vehicles even if wearing a seat belt. Jeepneys are only required to have lap belts for the front seat passengers and the driver.
The table below gives an overview of when seat belt legislation was first introduced in different countries. It includes both regional and national legislation.
|Country||Compulsory wearing||Compulsory fitting||Source|
|Driver||Front passengers||Rear passengers|
|Argentina||1994||1994||1994 (First row only, all in school buses)|||
|Australia||1970 (Victoria), 1971 (SA, NSW), 1972 (national), 1986 (child restraints)||1969, 1970 (back seat, Victoria) 1971 (back seat)||1983 (≤3.5 tonnes)|||
|Czech Republic||1966 (outside cities)
|Finland||1975, 1982 fines given||1975 over 15 years old passenger, 1982 all and fines given||1987, 1994 taxi passengers||2006||1971 (front seat)1981 (back seat)|
|France||1973 (outside cities), 1975 (cities at night), 1979 (all)||1990||2003||1967, 1978 (back seat)||2003|||
|Germany||1976||1984||1999||1970, 1979 (back seat)||1999||Angurtpflicht|
|Hong Kong||1983||1983||1996||2004 (minibuses)||1996 (back seat)||2004 (minibuses); July 2018 (franchised buses)|
|India||1994 (front seats), 2002 (rear seats)|
|Ireland||1979||1992||1971 (front seats), 1992 (rear seats)|||
|Italy||1989||1990 (where available)‡||2006‡||1988 (new vehicles); 1989 (all*, front seats); 1990 (new vehicles, back seats); 2000 (all*, back seats)||2006|||
|Japan||1971† (1985)||1971 (no fines), 1985 (fines on freeway), 1993 (all)||2008||2008||1969|||
|Myanmar||2017||2017||2017||2016 (motorway buses enforced)|
|Netherlands||1976||1992||1975 (front) 1990 (rear)|
|New Zealand||1972||1972 (15 years and over), 1979 (8 years and over)||1989♣||1972 (vehicles registered after 1965), 1975 (after 1955)|||
|Philippines||2000 (those below 6 years prohibited to occupy front seats)||2000 (first row beside the driver's seat only)||2000|||
|Singapore||1973||1973||1993||2008 (small buses)||1973|
|Sweden||1975||1986||1969 (front) 1970 (rear)||2004|||
|United Kingdom||1983||1991||2006||1967 (front) 1987 (rear)|||
|United States||1984 (New York; seat belt use law is jurisdiction of individual states)||Wisconsin, 1961. Federally, front lap 1965 model year; front shoulder & rear lap 1968; 3-point front 1974|||
* - actually only vehicles registered after 15 June 1976; in previous registered vehicles fitting is optional
† - required by the law, but no penalty for violation at the time
‡ - required by the law, but low enforcement
♣ - definitely introduced by this date, possibly earlier
Studies by road safety authorities conclude that seat belt legislation has reduced the number of casualties in road accidents.
Studies of accident outcomes suggest that fatality rates among car occupants are reduced by between 30 and 50 percent if seat belts are worn. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that death risks for a driver wearing a lap-shoulder seat belt are reduced by 48 percent. The same study indicated that in 2007, an estimated 15,147 lives were saved by seat belts in the United States and that if seat belt use were increased to 100 percent, an additional 5024 lives would have been saved.
An earlier statistical analysis by the NHTSA claimed that seat belts save over 10,000 lives every year in the US.
According to a more recent fact sheet produced by the NHTSA:
- "In 2012, seat belts saved an estimated 12,174 lives among passenger vehicle occupants 5 and older. [...] Research has found that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45% and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%. [...] Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats has found them to reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants (younger than 1 year old) and by 54% for toddlers (1 to 4 years old) in passenger cars." 
By 2009, despite large increases in population and the number of vehicles, road deaths in Victoria had fallen below 300, less than a third of the 1970 level, the lowest since records were kept, and far below the per capita rate in jurisdictions such as the United States. This reduction was generally attributed to aggressive road safety campaigns beginning with the seat belt laws.
A 2008 study in the Journal of Health Economics found that mandatory seat belt laws in the U.S. "significantly increased seatbelt use among high school age youths by 45-80%" and "significantly reduced traffic fatalities and serious injuries resulting from fatal crashes by 8 and 9%, respectively." The authors note that these "results suggest that if all states had primary enforcement seatbelt laws then regular youth seatbelt use would be nearly universal and youth fatalities would fall by about 120 per year."
A number of groups and individuals are opposed to seat belt legislation. The most common grounds for opposition are:
- The view that laws requiring the wearing of seat belts are an infringement of individual liberty.
- Claims that official estimates of the number of lives saved by seat belts are overstated or fail to take into account additional risks for other road users.
Risk compensation and other theories
The most common basis for disputing estimates of the benefits of seat belts is risk compensation and risk homeostasis, advanced by researchers John Adams and Gerald Wilde. The idea of this theory is that, if the risk of death or injury from a car crash is reduced by the wearing of seat belts, drivers will respond by reducing the precautions they take against crashes. Adams accepts the hypothesis that wearing seat belts improves a vehicle occupant’s chances of surviving a crash. In order to explain the disparity between the agreed improvement in crash survival and the observed results, Adams and Wilde argue that protecting someone from the consequences of risky behaviour may tend to encourage greater risk taking. Wilde states, "to compel a person to use protection from the consequences of hazardous driving, as seat belt laws do, is to encourage hazardous driving. A fine for non-compliance will encourage seat belt use, but the fact that the law fails to increase people's desire to be safe encourages compensatory behaviour." 
Studies and experiments have been carried out to examine the risk compensation theory. In one experiment subjects were asked to drive go-karts around a track under various conditions. It was found that subjects who started driving belted did not drive any slower when subsequently unbelted, but those who started driving unbelted did drive consistently faster when subsequently belted. A study of habitual non-seat belt wearers driving in freeway conditions found evidence that they had adapted to seat belt use by adopting higher driving speeds and closer following distances. In another study, taxi drivers who were habitual non-wearers were timed over a route with passengers who did, and others who did not, insist on the driver wearing a belt. They completed the route faster when belted.
In addition to risk compensation, Adams has suggested other mechanisms that may lead to inaccurate or unsupportable predictions of positive benefits from seat belt legislation.
- Case-control studies based on voluntary use of safety aids can attribute to the aid benefits that actually come from the risk-averse nature of those likely to use them voluntarily (confounding), particularly early adopters.
- Fatality rates are subject to considerable stochastic noise, and comparison of single years or short periods can be misleading.
Opponents have objected to the laws on libertarian principles. Some do so on the grounds that seat belt laws infringe on their civil liberties. For example, in a 1986 letter to the editor of the New York Times, a writer argued that seat belt legislation was "coercive" and that "a mandatory-seat-belt law violates the right to bodily privacy and self-control".
A counterpoint to the libertarian view is that by reducing death and serious injury, mandatory seat belt use and enforcement of seat belt laws results in substantial social benefits. For example, an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2010 non-fatal injuries to motor vehicle occupants cost the United States $48 billion in medical expenses and lost work. An example is an unbelted driver who kills or injures another road user because he/she slides out of proper seating position and cannot regain control of the vehicle during slippery conditions. Another notable scenario is of rear-seated passengers being forced forward in a crash and thus inadvertently harming the driver or front passenger. A University of Wisconsin study demonstrated that car accident victims who had not worn seat belts cost the hospital (and the state, in the case of the uninsured) on average 25% more.
Side-effects of seat belts
Neck injuries can be caused by the deceleration from a high speed. The passengers head continues to move forward while the body is restrained, potentially causing paralyzing injuries. A study of such injuries notes, "Seatbelts save lives. However, they may cause injury to adjacent structures and when they malfunction can cause injury to the abdominal viscera, bony skeleton and vascular structures. The motor industry has attempted to reduce these injuries by modification of vehicle design and safety equipment."
- "A Potted Seat Belt History". Drivers Technology.
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- Helena Webb (15 August 2006). "Loose belts lose lives". Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
- 2005 Regulatory Impact Statement - Seat belt legislation amendments Archived 2007-10-09 at the Wayback Machine
- "Seatbelts Saving Lives In Ontario For 35 Years" (Press release). Ministry of Transportation, Ontario. December 2010.
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- "RoSPA History - How Belting Up Became Law". RoSPA. Retrieved 2012-08-02.
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- "Primary Enforcement of Safety Belt Laws". Public Health Law Research. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. December 7, 2009.
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- "Indonesia". US Department of State. Archived from the original on 2012-09-28. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
- "All must belt up in MPVs". The Star. 29 December 2008. Archived from the original on 1 January 2009. Retrieved 1 January 2009.
- "Republic Act No. 8750". LAWPHiL. Eleventh Congress of the Philippines. Archived from the original on 5 August 1999. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- Crisostomo, Sheila (1 May 2000). "Seat Belt Law takes effect today". The Philippine Star. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- (in Spanish) National Law Nº26,687 - Article 30 A, Article 40 K and Article 55
- http://aplikace.mvcr.cz/archiv2008/sbirka/1966/sb35-66.pdf[permanent dead link]
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-04-14. Retrieved 2005-05-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-09-11. Retrieved 2008-01-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- http://www.rospa.com/about/history/seatbelt-history.aspx RoSPA
- "Lives Saved Calculations for Seat Belts and Frontal Air Bags" (PDF). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. December 2009. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- Glassbrenner, Donna. "Estimating The Lives Saved By Safety Belts and Air Bags" (PDF). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 September 2012. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- "Traffic Safety Facts - 2012 Data - Occupant Protection" (PDF). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- Sexton, Reid (27 December 2009). "Victoria's road toll at record low". theage.com.au. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
- Lucas, Clay (9 July 2010). "How low can we go?". theage.com.au. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
- Carpenter, Christopher S.; Stehr, Mark (2008-05-01). "The effects of mandatory seatbelt laws on seatbelt use, motor vehicle fatalities, and crash-related injuries among youths" (PDF). Journal of Health Economics. 27 (3): 642–662. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2007.09.010. ISSN 0167-6296. PMID 18242744.
- John Adams (2006). "The Failure of Seat Belt Legislation" (PDF). John Adams. Retrieved 2010-03-04. (primary source)
- Wilde GJS (1994). Target Risk. Toronto: PDE Publications. ISBN 0-9699124-0-4. Archived from the original on 2005-08-25.
- Streff FM; Geller ES (August 1988). "An experimental test of risk compensation: between-subject versus within-subject analyses" (PDF). Accident Analysis and Prevention. 20 (4): 277–87. doi:10.1016/0001-4575(88)90055-3. hdl:2027.42/27199. PMID 3415759.
- Janssen W (April 1994). "Seat belt wearing and driving behaviour: An instrumented-vehicle study". Accident Analysis and Prevention. 26 (2): 249–2. doi:10.1016/0001-4575(94)90095-7. PMID 8198694.
- Wilde GJS (1994). Target Risk (1st ed.). ISBN 0-9699124-0-4. Archived from the original on 2006-07-14.
- Jeff Jacoby (August 25, 1994). "Unbuckling the Voters" (Op-Ed). Boston Globe.
- David Solan (February 26, 1986). "Seat-Belt Laws Violate Your Civil Rights" (Op-Ed). New York Times.
- CDC (September 2014). "Data & Statistics (WISQARS): Cost of Injury Reports".
- Marion Ceraso; Keri Frisch; Stephen Hargarten; Timothy Corden (September 2006). "Primary Enforcement of Seatbelt Laws: A Means for Decreasing Injuries, Deaths and Crash-Related Costs in Wisconsin?" (PDF). University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-11.
- Smith, J. E. (2005). Injuries caused by seatbelt - Trauma. tra.sagepub.com. pp. Vol. 7, No. 4, 211–215. Archived from the original on 17 October 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
References and further reading
- John Adams (1995). Risk. Routledge. ISBN 1-85728-068-7.
- Wilde G.S. Target Risk PDE Publications, 1994
- The Isles report "Seat belt savings: Implications of European Statistics", UK DoT, 1981, Sourced from Death on the Streets, Cars and the Mythology of Road Safety by Robert Davis, Leading Edge Press, North Yorkshire UK, 1992 and "Report questions whether seat belts save lives" by M. Hamer, New Scientist, 7 February 1985 p7
- Evaluation of Automobile Safety Regulations: The case of Compulsory Seat Belt Legislation in Australia. by J.A.C. Coneybeare, Policy Sciences 12:27-39, 1980
- Compulsory Seat Belt Use: Further Inferences, by P. Hurst Accident Analysis and Prevention., Vol 11: 27-33, 1979
- Wilde G. S. Risk Homeostasis and Traffic Accidents Propositions, Deductions and Discussion of Dissension in Recent Reactions, Ergonomics 1988 Vol, 31, 4:439
- Methodological Issues in Testing the Hypothesis of Risk Compensation by Brian Dulisse, Accident Analysis and Prevention Vol. 25 (5): 285-292, 1997
- RS 255 The initial impact of seat belt legislation in Ireland by R. Hearne, An Foras Forbatha, Dublin, 1981
- The efficacy of seat belt legislation: A comparative study of road accident fatality statistics from 18 countries, by J. Adams. Department of Geography University College, London 1981
- Casualty Reductions, Whose Problem? By F. West-Oram, Traffic Engineering and Control, September 1990
- The Puzzle of Seat Belts Explained, Press Release of the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society, April 1999
- Reconsidering the effects of seat belt Laws and Their Enforcement Status by T.S. Dee Accident Analysis and Prevention., Vol 30(1): 1-10, 1998