Seat belt safety

Wearing a correctly adjusted seat belt is one of the simplest ways of reducing the risk of serious injury or death in the event of a motor vehicle crash. By law everyone must wear a seat belt in Australia.

Seat belts are designed to minimise injury by transferring the force of a crash away from more vulnerable parts of your body such as your stomach and thighs, to areas that are better able to provide resistance, like your pelvis and sternum.

To do this effectively, however, your seat belt must be adjusted correctly and not be damaged in any way.

If you are in a crash, your seat belt protects you by:

  • reducing the risk that you will be thrown out of a vehicle
  • holding you in the position where you receive the most benefit from protective devices such as airbags
  • reducing the risk that you will be thrown around within the cabin and injure yourself and other occupants
  • reducing the likelihood of hitting other objects within the vehicle such as the back windscreen, front seats and light fixtures.

Adjust your seat belt so that:

  • the lap belt fits snugly across your pelvis, under your stomach and above your thighs
  • the sash crosses your chest diagonally, sits across your shoulder and does not rub against your neck or upper arm. Many cars allow you to adjust the shoulder strap height.

Also make sure that:

  • no part of the seat belt is twisted
  • the sash is not slack; remove any slack by pulling firmly on the sash after the buckle has been fastened.

Keeping your seat belts in good working order is as important as any other aspect of vehicle maintenance. On a regular basis, check the:

  • seat belt material is not frayed or cut
  • seat belts are not twisted
  • buckles engage and release properly
  • seat belt retractors work well, i.e the seat belts pull out smoothly and retract completely when not in use
  • seat belt warning device (if fitted) is working.

A driver of a motor vehicle is responsible for ensuring that each passenger is restrained in a seat belt, approved child restraint or booster seat. There are tough penalties for those who break the law.

If travelling on a bus or coach with seat belts, you and any companions must wear a seat belt.

  • If the bus has more than 12 seating positions, including the driver, the driver is exempt from complying with the child restraint road rules.
  • This means that children travelling in the bus are not required by law to use child restraints or booster seats. However, in the interests of improved child passenger safety, VicRoads recommends that - where practicable - child restraints and booster seats are used in buses.

Seat belts cannot be shared. If all seat belts are taken by individual passengers, no additional people can travel in that vehicle.

If you are driving a truck, you are legally required to wear a seat belt where one is provided.

If you are buying a new or second hand car, look for models that have a seat belt reminder system (an audible ‘beep’ as well as a flashing light) for the front and rear seats.

Some people believe they don’t have to wear seat belts if they are pregnant or elderly. This is wrong.

Myth: Pregnant women don’t have to wear a seat belt
Truth: If you are pregnant, wearing a seat belt will protect you and your baby.

Myth: Older drivers don’t have to wear a seat belt
Truth: It is important for older drivers to wear seat belts because they may be physically frail. If you have difficulty managing your seat belt because of physical problems, consult an occupational therapist for assistance. A seat belt positioning device may help.

Myth: Children should use a safety harness with a booster seat
Truth: A child safety harness is difficult to use and is commonly misused. A lap-sash seat belt should be used with a booster seat. Only use a child safety harness if you need to use a booster seat in a seating position with a lap only seat belt. Where possible, replace the lap only seat belt with a lap sash seat belt so you don’t have to use a child safety harness.

There are some circumstances in which a person may be exempt from wearing a seat belt, such as when the driver is reversing the vehicle or is engaged in the door-to-door delivery or collecting goods or garbage and is travelling under 25 km/h.

Resources

TAC How Safe Is Your Car website

  • provides detailed information on crash performance ratings for new and used cars, including specific vehicle safety information for various road user groups.

TAC Safety website

  • highlights a range of road safety issues, including tips and hints for safe driving practices.

Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) website

  • has crash test results and occupant protection ratings for new vehicles.

RACV’s website

  • includes information on road safety for children and seniors, car safety, and new and used car safety ratings.

Child Car Seats website

  • rates child restraints and booster seats on how well they protect a child in a crash and how easy they are to use.

Publications

Information sheets about seat belts can be downloaded from our vehicle standards page.

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