Make seat belts work for you

Whilst your car may feature specially designed crumple zones, a deformable dashboard, airbags and super-strength pillars, seatbelts remain the single most effective measure to increase safety and minimise injuries in a crash.

They work by spreading the impact over a larger area of the body for a longer time, so reducing the effect of forces at and around the time of impact. However, if they're badly adjusted or worn incorrectly, seatbelts can contribute to a driver's or passenger's injuries - although even a badly adjusted seatbelt is better than no seatbelt at all.

Wear your seatbelt safely

So always ensure that you and your passengers wear their seatbelts correctly and they are properly adjusted. Fit the lap part of the belt across the hipbones, not the soft area of the abdomen. The diagonal belt should fit across the shoulder, not along the neck, and between the breasts.

Your responsibilities

  • Penalties - failing to use a seatbelt results in a £30 fixed penalty notice or a maximum fine of £500 if the case goes to court.

    Even heavily pregnant women aren't exempt from wearing seatbelts when travelling by car. The safest way to wear a normal three-point seatbelt during pregnancy is to follow the usual recommendations to place the diagonal strap between the breasts and across the shoulder, not the neck. Then the lap belt should be fitted under the bump, but over the pelvis, so that the pelvis absorbs any impact. Make sure the belt is fitted as tightly as possible, in contact with bony areas of the body.

  • The law and children - since September 2006, all children must use an appropriate child restraint or adult seat belt (depending on their age, size and weight).

    It is illegal to place a baby in a rear-facing child seat on a front passenger seat that is protected by an airbag.

    It is the driver's responsibility to make sure passengers under 14 are wearing their seatbelts. Passengers over 14 are responsible for themselves.

    If no belts are available, perhaps because your vehicle is a classic or vintage model, then no children under 12 or less than 135 cm in height are allowed to travel.

  • Younger children - Children aged three or above, until they reach their 12th birthday or 135cm in height, must use a forward-facing child high-back booster or booster cushion.

    When buying a car child seat, make sure it's the right one for your child's weight, and that it fits your car properly. An ISOFIX seat locks directly into your car's body and eliminates fitting problems, ensuring your child is as safe as possible when travelling by car.

Take these simple steps and you will not only stay on the right side of the law, but ensure you and your passengers get the maximum benefit from the seatbelts and child seats in your vehicle.

David Williams MBE is the Chief Executive of GEM Motoring Assist, a leading road safety organisation in the UK. They offer breakdown policies for a wide variety of vehicles including cars, motorbikes and caravans and motorhomes.