Seat Belts - Do you know the Law?

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The choices are endless and can be rather confusing.  However, I found the advice issued by Think! Always Wear A Seatbelt to be very helpful.  More information can be found by following this link.

As a heavily pregnant driver, I am finding that driving is getting more and more uncomfortable.  But like any driver or passenger I have to wear my seatbelt - there is no automatic exemption for me, even if it does make my bump fidget and kick!  The lap strap should go across the hips, fitting comfortably under the bump, while the diagonal strap should be placed between the breasts and around the bump.  I am not silly I wear my seatbelt.  If I don't wear my seat belt my car makes a constant annoying beeping until the seat belt is fastened!

The same applies to my passengers. If you don't buckle up within 5 seconds of the car moving then you are greeted by a beep, beep, beep, beep and repeat!  Annoying and very effective!

I, like I am sure you do, know that seat belts saves lives. If you don't know the consequences then this fact should bring it home:  "In a crash at 30mph, if you are unrestrained, your body will hit anything in front of you with a force equivalent to 30 - 60 times your own body weight."  Point made.

Furthermore, if you don't wear a seat belt and you are injured, through no fault of your own, your damages can be reduced by up to 25%. 

So, what is the law? 

-- Seat belts must be worn in cars and goods vehicles where one it fitted.  The driver is liable to prosecution if a child under 14 years does not wear a seat belt or child restraint;

-- All children up to 135cm in height must use the appropriate child restraint for their weight when travelling in the front or back of any car, van or other goods vehicle;

-- A child may use an adult seat belt when they reach 135cm in height or the age of 12;

-- In minibuses with seat belts fitted passengers 3 years and over must use seat belts or child restraints if available;

-- In buses and coaches with seat belts fitted, passengers aged 14 years and above must use them;

It is the driver who is responsible for the child passenger regardless of who else may be travelling in the car.

So, what is the correct way to wear a seat belt?  

Sounds simple but I bet we all make adjustments that could affect the effectiveness of the seat belt.  You should adjust the seat belt so that the lap belt is as low as possible from hip bone to hip bone.  Make sure the diagonal strap lies across the chest and away from the neck.  It should slope up and back to the top fixing point and not be twisted.  Do not leave any slack in the belt.  Do not try to improve the comfort of the belt with padding or cushions or sit on mats or cushions.  If the seat belt is that uncomfortable ask the vehicle manufacturer for any recommended comfort advice.  When fitting a centre rear seat lap only belt ensure it is adjusted so that the belt fits snugly over your hips without any slack.

If your car is fitted with an airbag do not rely on this and not wear your seatbelt,  airbags are not substitutes.  They are designed to work with the seat belt.  Always wear your seat belt and do not sit to close to the steering wheel or dashboard.  A distance of 10 inches from the centre of the dashboard to the breastbone is recommended.  When fitting a child seat don't forget that the law prohibits the use of a rear facing child seat where a front seat is protected by an active frontal airbag.

My next question is what type of child restraint is suitable from newborn to 12 years old?  This depends on the child weight as opposed to their age.  Manufacturers have categorised them into the following groups to aid parents, or soon to be parents such as me;

-- Group O and O+ (baby seat) - Up to 13kg;

-- Group 1 (child seat) - From 9kg - 18kg;

-- Group 2 (booster seat) - From 15kg to 25kg and upwards;

-- Group 3 (booster cushion) - From 22kg and upwards.

I have established that I need a Group 0 baby seat which must be rear facing.  Phew.  Now all I need to decide is what make, colour, price . . .  Always ensure that your baby / child seat is fitted correctly.  This can be more of a challenge than first thought!  I intend to purchase my seat from a well known shop that provides a free fitting service.  That way once the seat is in it stays in the car and I can relax knowing that it has been professionally fitted.

Are there any exemptions from wearing a seat belt?  The answer is yes.  There is a specific exemption from seat belt wearing on medical grounds.  Only your doctor can decide if you are entitled to such an exemption and if so they will issue you with a formal "Certificate of Exemption from Compulsory Seat Belt Wearing".  If you are issued with such a certificate, carry it with you at all times as you may be asked to produce it to the police if they stop and ask you for it.

Disabled drivers and passengers, both adults and children, may need to use specially adapted belts known as "disabled person's belts".  The design of these belts may differ from the standard seat belt and are intended solely for use by disabled people.  They would not have the same safety effect if used by an able bodied person.

Don't forget clunk click and be safe.

Karen Thompson

Senior Legal Executive - Personal Injury team

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