A quarter of car occupants who die in road crashes aren’t wearing a seat belt

8 May 2024

Posted in Surveys and reports

  • 24% of car drivers and 26% of passengers who die on Britain’s roads aren’t wearing a seat belt
  • 41% of night-time road deaths involve occupants who are not wearing a seat belt
  • New research found 10% of drivers occasionally forget to wear a seat belt
  • 80% of drivers say they wear a seat belt to protect themselves in a crash

A quarter of car occupants who die in crashes on Britain’s roads are not wearing a seat belt – this figure rises to 41% for crashes that occur at night (6pm-8am)1. In 2023, 1,766 people died on UK roads and many more received serious, life-changing injuries that may have been prevented by wearing a seat belt2. New research from AXA UK and the charity Brake reveals that while 96% of drivers surveyed said they always wear a seat belt, in practice this may not always be the case.

The study also found that although drivers appear to have a good understanding of the safety benefits of seat belts and child seats for babies and children, there is a lack of knowledge about some of the other passive safety features in their cars. These include seat belt reminders and pre-tensioners, head restraints and load limiters, which are designed to reduce the risk of death and injury in the event of a crash.

The report ‘Seat belts and passive safety systems’ – released today (8 May 2024) by AXA UK and Brake, highlights concern for the small but significant proportion of drivers who don’t wear a seat belt on every journey, risking the safety of themselves, their passengers and other road users.

AXA UK and Brake are challenging the government to implement the EU General Safety Regulation which stipulates that seat belt reminders should be made mandatory for all seats in all vehicles – especially important for the 10% of drivers who say they occasionally forget to buckle up, compromising their own and others’ safety.

The report also includes a recommendation for a review of the archaic law that exempts taxi drivers from wearing a seat belt. Last reviewed in 1993, the law was originally introduced to prevent passengers from using a seat belt to trap a taxi driver to their seat in order to steal their cash. Many taxis now have a Perspex divider separating drivers from their passengers, and fare payment is largely cashless, so it’s time for this law to be reviewed.

While travelling in a taxi, around a fifth (21%) of those surveyed said they don’t always wear a seat belt, even though it is a legal requirement to wear one if available.

AXA UK and Brake are also calling for a new public awareness and education campaign to highlight the safety benefits of belting up on every single journey, with a specific focus on driving at night. While both organisations welcome the government’s new CLICK! campaign aimed at encouraging young male drivers to wear seat belts, there is a clear need for a wider campaign targeting all road users.

Finally, with work-related road collisions estimated to contribute to a third of all UK road deaths and a fifth of serious injuries3, the report calls for the expansion of projects such as National Highways’ Operation Ping, which uses data captured from cameras on the Strategic Road Network to address non-seat-belt usage among fleet drivers.

As an insurance provider, we understand the importance of protecting our customers against potential risks and we know that wearing seat belts is one of the most effective ways to keep people safe on our roads. Young drivers are amongst the most at risk of serious injury or death from not wearing seat belts, and alarmingly our research shows that 15% of drivers do not check that children under 14 are properly restrained during car journeys.

By responsibly wearing a seatbelt, drivers are not only protecting themselves but also those travelling with them, including children. This simple action can significantly reduce the risk of death or serious injury and teaches the younger generation road safety skills and develops potentially life saving habits.

Prioritising road safety is at the heart of AXA’s commitment to safeguarding lives and promoting a culture of responsible driving. By championing initiatives that raise awareness of safety issues, we aim to prioritise safer driving and ultimately reduce road deaths.

Alain Zweibrucker, AXA Retail CEO at AXA UK

Over the last five years, a quarter of car drivers and passengers who died in road crashes on roads in Britain weren’t wearing a seat belt. From 2018 to 2022, more than 3,000 car occupants have died and 44,000 have suffered serious injuries. It’s reasonable to assume, therefore, that during this time period, more than 11,000 may perhaps have been able to protect themselves against traumatic brain injuries, neck and spinal injury, and damage to internal organs.

Seat belts are one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect ourselves when travelling by car, yet some still choose to risk their own safety – and the safety of those travelling with them – by choosing not to belt up.

We believe it is always safer to wear a seat belt than sometimes wear one. Whatever the length of your journey, and regardless of whether you are carrying passengers, we urge to belt up for every single journey.

Ross Moorlock, CEO at Brake

1 Department for Transport (2023) Reported road casualties Great Britain, annual report: 2022 and supporting data sets. Table RAS0711: Proportion of car occupant fatalities not wearing a seatbelt

2 Department for Transport (2023) Reported road casualties Great Britain. Annual report 2022 and associated data sets

3 Ward, H., Christie, N., Walton, B. (2020) Driving for work A strategic review of risks associated with cars and light vans and implications for policy and practice