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Tougher penalties for not belting up

September 6th 2021

WEARING a seat belt saves lives – possibly your own, or potentially that of a loved one sharing the car with you.

Thinking it over with Carol Fish Director & Head of Serious and Catastrophic Injury

But it would appear that too many people are taking risks by not buckling up when in vehicles, and sadly the consequences can be catastrophic, sometimes fatal.

A recent report by Cumbria Police revealed that the constabulary stopped 64 vehicles over a two-week period in relation to seat belt offences, with 51 of those relating to people in the front seats.

And because getting people to wear seat belts is proving difficult in some instances – even though it has been the law in the UK for drivers or front seat passengers since 1983 and for back seat passengers for 30 years – the Government is proposing to introduce stricter penalties for those flouting the rules.

Currently, people who aren’t wearing a seat belt are fined £100, which could rise to £500 if the case goes through the courts. As this isn’t enough of a deterrent to some, it is planned that motorists could face at least three penalty points and a possible driving ban.

Motorists need to be aware not only of the criminal repercussions of the failure to belt up, but of the legal implications in any injury claim too.

As a solicitor specialising in serious and catastrophic injury, vehicle crashes feature among my daily workload, and the cases can often be clear cut. If somebody crashes into you and is clearly responsible for the collision, you could expect to claim some form of compensation for any injuries sustained.

However, if you are not wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision – as is stated by law – then you could be considered partly at fault for your own injury and you run the risk of losing a percentage of any damages claim even if the accident was not your fault.

The term ‘contributory negligence’ refers to when the injured party is held partly responsible for their own injuries as they failed to take reasonable care for their own safety, in this instance not suitably taking precaution by buckling up when it is compulsory to do so in a vehicle and if it can be proven that the failure to wear a seatbelt has caused or contributed to the severity of their injuries.

This can extend to a number of other injury-related incidents, for example when a cyclist or motor cyclist fails to wear a helmet and their injuries are more severe as a result.

People need to be reminded that they need to protect themselves, and of course others they are sharing the road with, the best they can before they set off on any journey.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is currently reviewing the Highway Code and the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), a not-for-profit organisation representing injured people of which I am a member, largely welcomes the changes proposed, but take issue with the fact that it will remain optional rather than compulsory for cyclists to wear safety helmets.

APIL are concerned that the rule says cyclists ‘should’ wear helmets, rather than ‘must’. A key change to the latter would ensure all cyclists were safer on the roads.

APIL has consulted on the DfT’s review of the Highway Code generally, and have voiced concerns over proposed wording about giving pedestrians the right of way at junctions as the fear is this may lead pedestrians into thinking they can step into the road without checking for traffic.

Our message is that we all need to take extra care to protect ourselves from serious harm, whether in a vehicle, on a bike or on foot.

You can contact Carol on 01228 516666 or click here to send her an email.

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