Centre for Road Safety

Our crash test video shows that even if your car has airbags, you're risking your life if you don't wear a seatbelt.

Although it has been compulsory to wear seatbelts in New South Wales since 1971, each year on average there are more than 30 people killed and 270 injured who were not wearing seatbelts. Many of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented if seatbelts had been used.

Frequently asked questions

  1. What happens if a front seat occupant doesn't wear a seatbelt?
  2. What happens if my rear seat passengers don't wear a seatbelt?
  3. Are there fines for not wearing a seatbelt?
  4. What are the main functions of a seatbelt?
  5. Can a person share a seatbelt?
  6. How can I ensure my seatbelt provides maximum protection?
  7. Should a seatbelt be worn during pregnancy?

1. What happens if a front seat occupant doesn'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 until something stops them. This could be the steering wheel, dashboard or windscreen. In some crashes, the person may burst through one of the windows and be partially or fully ejected from the vehicle, exposing them to other dangers. They might hit fixed objects or be run over or crushed by their own, or another, vehicle. Even if the vehicle is fitted with an airbag, the force at which an unrestrained occupant strikes the airbag can cause serious injuries.

2. What happens 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. The front seatbelt must then 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 after striking the seat in front, the passenger's momentum will usually force their upper body over the top of the seat. Apart from causing them serious injuries, their head can strike a dangerous blow to the front seat occupant. Front seat occupants have been killed or seriously injured in this way.

3. Are there fines for not wearing a seatbelt?

There are seatbelt penalties and demerit points for drivers, including taxi drivers, who do not wear a seatbelt or who fail 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 seatbelts or approved child car seats.

A person must occupy a proper seating position with a dedicated seatbelt. It is illegal and unsafe to have too many people in a car, especially sitting on the 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. The NSW Legislation website has detailed information under Part 16 of the Road Rules.

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.

4. What are the main functions of a seatbelt?

The five main functions of a seatbelt are to:

  • Cause the occupant to decelerate at the same rate as the vehicle in a crash
  • Spread the force of the impact over the stronger parts of the occupant’s body (pelvis and chest area)
  • Prevent the occupant colliding with the interior parts of the vehicle
  • Reduce the risk of being thrown from the vehicle
  • In modern cars, seatbelts are designed to work together with the airbags. In a crash, the seatbelt slows the speed of the occupant so they impact safely with the airbag.

5. Can a person share a seatbelt?

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, the child could be crushed between the seatbelt and the adult.

6. How can I ensure my seatbelt provides maximum protection?

Always ensure seatbelts are adjusted firmly. A poorly adjusted seatbelt will allow the occupant to move forward in a crash and increase the risk of head contact with part of the vehicle interior. In a crash, the occupant will experience high seatbelt loads as the seatbelt pulls against the their body.

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 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 the seatbelt digs into the abdomen and places additional forces on the lower spine.

7. Should a seatbelt be worn during pregnancy?

Yes, pregnant women should wear a seatbelt at all times. If a mother hits hard objects inside the car, those blows will be transmitted to the child and severe injury may result. If the unborn child’s mother is seriously injured or killed, the child's chances of survival will be greatly 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 to put the lap part of the belt as low as possible. It should be positioned 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. Breast tenderness caused by the sash part of the belt can usually be avoided by passing the seatbelt  between the breasts. If this is not the natural line of the sash, a sash guide may be used to improve the comfort of the seatbelt.

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