Almost a third of people killed in car crashes on UK roads were not wearing a seat belt, according to new data.
Figures from specialist police investigators suggest that the number is higher than stated in official statistics and that it has increased significantly in recent years.
Through the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), insurer Direct Line made a Freedom of Information request to police forces around the UK. It found that in 31 per cent of cases in 2018, fatal crash victims were not wearing a belt.
That is higher than the 26 per cent reported in the most recent government report into road fatalities.
More detailed reporting
The results differ because the Direct Line/PACTS data was obtained from specialist police forensic collision investigators (PFCI), rather than relying on the broader Stats19 reporting, which forms the basis of the official figures.
While the PFCI have specialist training and more time to consider and complete their reports, the Stats19 information is usually collected by response officers at the scene or from witness statements, and is generally filled out before the end of a shift. It also does not include data from Northern Ireland, while the 1,000 PFCI reports used to compile the analysis do.
The data also shows a rise in the number of deaths where the victim was not wearing a belt. According to the PFCI figures, this has increased from 25 per cent in 2016 to 31 per cent in 2018. That is a similar pattern to the one reported by the Stats19 data, which also showed a six per cent increase between 2016 and 2018.
Not wearing a seat belt carries a standard fine of £100, rising to £500 if the case goes to court. In England, Scotland and Wales drivers cannot be given penalty points but in Northern Ireland the office carries three points as well as a fine. The Government's Road Safety Action Plan, published last year, includes a proposal to make penalty points part of the punishment across the rest of the UK as well.
David Davies, executive director of PACTS, said: “Not wearing a seat belt is one of the “fatal four” road safety risks but the one that gets least attention. Using the Freedom of Information Act, we obtained data from highly skilled Police Forensic Collision Investigators and discovered that the percentage of people dying in cars, when not wearing a seat belt, is even higher than reported in official figures last year.
“We also found that vital information about the causes of crashes and injury is not being routinely published. Only some PFCIs are consulted by their police colleagues and the local authorities who submit the casualty records (Stats19) to the Department for Transport for publication. This happens in some areas of the UK. We want it to become standard. This more accurate and detailed information could be used to prevent further deaths and serious injury.”
Gus Park, managing director of Motor Insurance at Direct Line, added: “Building on our previous research we have discovered an even larger number of people have died unbelted on our roads. It would appear the more we look at seat belt wearing rates, the more concerning the picture is.
“This reinforces our view there is a need to drive up seat belt wearing rates to enhance road safety and ultimately prevent unnecessary deaths. The introduction of three penalty points has made an impact in Northern Ireland. It is time to consider doing the same for England, Scotland and Wales.”