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The Consequences of Not Wearing a Seatbelt: Common Injuries Resulting From Road Traffic Accidents

The Consequences of Not Wearing a Seatbelt: Common Injuries Resulting From Road Traffic Accidents

Road traffic injuries are a major health problem, with approximately 1.2 million people killed on the roads each year globally.[1] While seatbelts are the single most effective car safety mechanism, a staggering 1.85 million UK motorists fail to buckle-up each year, increasing their risk of serious injury and death.

The first seat belt law came into effect in Victoria, Australia in 1970, with the rest of Australia and several European countries swiftly following suit.[2] Surprisingly, the journey to legalise seat belt use in the United Kingdom was a lengthy process, with legislation coming into effect on January 31 1983, ten years after the first clause was introduced in the House of Lords.[3] Following this legislation, the UK saw a distinct decrease in the road accident death toll.[4] Current law dictates that UK drivers and passengers must wear a seat belt at all times, unless medically exempt. By the same law, children must wear an appropriate child restraint until they have either reached 12 years of age, or 135cm in height.

Legislation for mandatory wearing of seat belts for both front and rear occupants has been deemed as a significant health and safety advance. Studies from the UK and abroad have suggested that legislation reduces serious injury and death in vehicle accidents. A meta-analysis of global studies exploring the effectiveness of seat belts suggests that their use reduces the likelihood of death and serious injury by between 40-50% for front seat occupants and 25% for rear occupants, while the effect on minor injuries is approximately 20-30%.[5] Results from these studies also indicate that the chance of sustaining a serious injury in a car crash are 4.4 times greater for unrestrained occupants.

The consequences of not wearing a seatbelt

When passengers are not restrained by a seat belt, three forms of collision occur. The first collision involves the vehicle and another object, the second occurs between the individuals in the vehicle and the vehicles interior, while the third collision occurs when the body’s internal organs hit against the individuals’ skeletal structure or chest wall. It is the last two forms of collision, occurring due to inertia, that are most responsible for injuries. Inertia is the tendency of an object to maintain momentum, where an object in motion stays in motion with the same velocity and direction unless acted upon by an outside force. For instance, if a car brakes abruptly the occupants will keep moving at the same speed that the car was previously moving. When this occurs, if property restrained, the seat belt acts as the outside force, rather than the dashboard or windscreen.

Seat belts are specifically designed to secure the occupant against harmful movements by applying the stopping force to the more durable parts of the body, reducing the likelihood of injury and death. Originally invented by George Cayley in the nineteenth century, numerous engineers have modified and improved on Cayley’s original blueprint, with the 1959 three-point belt design, developed by Nils Bohlin, remaining as a standard safety feature in cars today. This seat belt consists of a lap belt and a shoulder belt, applying the stopping force to the rib cage and pelvis, spreading the kinetic energy from a collision across a wide area of the body. Seat belts decrease the likelihood and severity of all injuries, as well as limiting ejection from the vehicle.[6] The modern seat belt is also designed to be the key element of a larger injury prevention mechanism involving air bags and head restraints, which are most effective when used in conjunction with the seat-belt.[7]

Surprisingly, despite the known effectiveness of the seatbelt, on average five percent of Britain’s 37 million motorists fail to buckle-up each year. While this percentage may seem trivial, this equates to an astonishing 1.85 million drivers not using their seat belt, putting themselves and other occupants in the car at great risk. Current data shows that approximately 1400 Britains are killed each year while in a car, and of these an estimated 400 had not been wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision.

Head, chest and abdomen injuries to unrestrained drivers

The most common and serious injuries in frontal collisions involving unrestrained drivers and passengers are to the head, followed by the chest and abdomen. Side-on collisions typically cause injuries to the chest, lower extremities, and the abdomen, while rear crashes commonly cause injury to the spine, neck, head and chest. Injuries can include internal bleeding, fractured and broken ribs, pneumothorax, facial lacerations, whiplash, muscle and skeletal injury to the lower extremities, paralysis, and most commonly, traumatic brain injury (TBI) which can range from a mild concussion to a severe injury resulting in impaired cognitive functioning.

The effects of head and brain injuries resulting from car accidents

According to medical figures, over half of all reported traumatic brain injuries are the result of car accidents. These injuries are not just open-wound injuries; indeed, the majority are closed-head injuries, where the force of an accident causes the brain to collide against the skull, or collide against a stationary object like the car windshield, causing damage to nerves, and bruising and bleeding to the brain.

The effects of TBI are wide ranging and depend on several factors including the severity and location of the injury. For example, damage to the parietal lobes often result in limb weakness and may affect touch perception and language; damage to the temporal lobes cause impairments in hearing, memory, and some visual perception; damage to the frontal lobes may affect personality, emotion, thinking, behaviour, judgement, and memory; and injury to the brain stem, which controls blood pressure, breathing, consciousness and those functions necessary for survival may result in a comatose state.

The importance of wearing a seatbelt cannot be overstated. The risks associated with not doing so are incredibly frightening, and can result in a myriad of serious injuries that can severely impact one’s quality of life.

Talk to us about compensation claims today

Have you or someone you love been injured in a road traffic accident? Speak to IBB Solicitors today for more information on the options available to you.

Please contact a member of our team on 01895 207835 or 01895 207295. Alternatively, you can send an email with your name and contact information and brief details as to the nature of the accident and the injuries sustained toPI@ibblaw.co.uk and one of our team will be able to help you.


[1] M Peden et al, World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, Geneva, World Health Organisation, 2004.

[2] L. Evans, Traffic Safety and the Driver, New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991.

[3] The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, ‘RoSPA History – How Belting-up Became Law’, http://www.rospa.com/about/history/seatbelt-history.aspx, 2012, (accessed 5 November 2014).

[4] R Elvick, and T Vaa, The Handbook of Road Safety Measures, UK, Elsevier, 2004.

[5] N Caroline, ‘Emergency care in the streets’, Jones & Bartlett Publishers, United States, 2012.

[6] Road Safety Observatory, ‘Seat-belts: How Effective?’, 2012, http://www.roadsafetyobservatory.com/HowEffective/vehicles/seat-belts , (accessed 6 November 2014).

[7] R Massey, ‘Time to Buckle Up: Millions of Car Drivers and Passengers Still Don’t wear Seatbelts 30 Years After ‘Clunk-Click Law was Launched’, Daily Mail, 31 January 2013, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2271059/Millions-car-drivers-passengers-dont-wear-seatbelts-30-years-clunk-click-law-brought-in.html, (accessed 5 November 2014).

[8] M.J. Swierzewski, ‘Deaths from Motor Vehicle Crashes: Patterns of Injury in Restrained and Unrestrained Victima’, Journal of Trauma, vol. 30, no. 3, 1994, pp.404-07. Available from NCBI, (accessed 6 November 2014).

[9] Headway: The Brain Injury Association, ‘What Happens in TBI, https://www.headway.org.uk/What-happens-in-a-TBI.aspx, 2014, (accessed 5 November 2014).

[10] Ibid

[11] No author, ‘Hundreds Die Without Seatbelts, BBC News, 13 August 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8197875.stm, (accessed 5 November 2014).