Since the introduction of compulsory seatbelt wearing throughout New South Wales in 1971, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of motor vehicle occupants killed or injured each year. This applies to drivers and rear and front seat passengers alike. However, each year on average there are more than 50 people killed who were not wearing a seatbelt, and almost 300 people injured. These deaths and injuries could have been prevented if seatbelts had been used. The risk to front seat occupants is also increased if the rear passengers are not restrained.
What may happen if I don't wear a seatbelt?
In a crash, a person who is not restrained by a seatbelt will continue to travel forward at the speed the vehicle was travelling prior to the crash, until something stops them. This could be an impact with a solid object inside the vehicle, such as the steering wheel, dashboard or windscreen. In some instances, the person may burst through one of the windows and be partially or fully ejected from the vehicle, exposing them to a range of other possible injury mechanisms, including impacting fixed objects, or being run over or crushed by their own, or another, vehicle.
What may happen if my rear seat passengers don’t wear a seatbelt?
In a crash an unrestrained rear seat occupant continues to travel forward until his or her progress is impeded, usually by one of the front seats. In a severe crash, the force with which the seat is struck is usually sufficient to cause the seat mountings or seat structure to fail. This means that the front seatbelt is then required to not only restrain the front seat occupant, but also the failed seat and rear seat occupant.
Seatbelt failures have been reported under these circumstances, resulting in both front and rear occupants sustaining severe and sometimes fatal injuries. Even if their seatbelt does not fail, the front passenger is subjected to extremely high crushing forces. Front seat occupants have also been fatally injured in this way.
Are there penalties for not wearing a seatbelt?
There are fines and demerit points for a driver who is not wearing a seatbelt or who fails to ensure their passengers use seatbelts where available. Passengers aged 16 years and older who do not use an available seatbelt will also be fined. Drivers of a motor vehicle (except a bus) are also responsible for passengers under 16 years old to be properly restrained in a seatbelt or an approved child restraint.
It is also illegal and unsafe to have too many people in a car, for example, sitting on a floor or on other people's laps. It is also illegal for passengers to travel in or on the boot of the car or in a part of a vehicle that has been designed to carry goods. More information about the NSW Road Rules 2008 can be found at www.legislation.nsw.gov.au
Learner or Provisional drivers (P1 and P2) are not allowed to carry anyone who is not wearing a seatbelt or not using a child restraint. A P1 driver under the age of 25 must not drive with more than one passenger under the age of 21 between the hours of 11pm and 5am.
Double demerit points also apply for non-use of seatbelts and restraints during all holiday periods, such as long weekends, Christmas, New Year and Easter.
What are the key functions of a seatbelt?
The four main functions of a seatbelt are to:
- cause the occupant to decelerate at the same time the vehicle is crushing (simultaneously maximising the distance over which the occupant comes to a stop);
- spread the force of the impact over the stronger parts of the occupant’s body (pelvis and chest bones);
- prevent the occupant colliding with the interior parts of the vehicle, and
- prevent ejection from the vehicle.
Can a person share the use of a seatbelt?
No. Never use a single seatbelt to restrain more than one person. To do so will risk either one or both of the occupants being seriously injured or killed.
At particular risk are small children who share a seatbelt when they ride on an adult's lap. In a crash, this would cause the child to be crushed between the seatbelt and the other person.
How can you ensure that your seatbelt gives you maximum protection?
Always ensure tight seatbelt adjustment. A poorly adjusted seatbelt will allow the occupant to move forward in a crash and thereby increase the risk of head contact with part of the vehicle interior. In moving forward, the occupant will also experience high seatbelt loads as the slack is taken up. Seatbelt induced injuries can generally be traced back to incorrectly adjusted seatbelts.
Seatbelts should also be adjusted so that the lap portion lies across the hard bony section of the hips and the sash falls across the chest and mid shoulder. Some belts, where the end anchorages are too high or too far back, can tend to ride up over the front bony parts of the hips. This is unsafe because in a crash it does not protect the abdomen contents or lower spine as well as it should.
Should a seatbelt be worn during pregnancy?
Yes, pregnant women should wear a seatbelt at all times. The safest place for the unborn child is in the firmly restrained pouch of the womb. If the mother and womb are left free to impact hard objects inside the car, those blows will be transmitted through to the child and severe injury may result. Similarly, if the unborn child’s mother is injured or killed, the child's chances of survival will be considerably reduced. The main cause of foetal deaths in car crashes is the death of the mother.
The most effective way for pregnant women to wear a seatbelt is if the lap part of the belt is worn as low as possible. This is under the abdomen below the front bony part of the hips and across the upper thighs. This will be well below the midpoint of the womb as the baby gets larger. Aggravation of breast tenderness by the sash part of the belt is sometimes raised as a potential problem. Ensuring the sash passes between the breasts usually solves this. If this is not the natural line of the sash, a sash guide may be used to improve the comfort of the seatbelt.