Seatbelts - the fatal mistake

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Seatbelt use has been compulsory in Victoria since 1970. We were the first place in the world to make this a requirement.

It might come as a surprise to you but in nearly 20 per cent of all deaths on Australian roads no seatbelt was worn. This is a pretty bad statistic when you think about it. So we thought we’d show you what happens when you don’t wear a seatbelt in a crash.

The main functions of a seatbelt

In a crash it’s the seatbelt's job to keep the occupant from moving around the cabin so they are less likely to hit hard bits of the car’s interior. A seatbelt also reduces the impact of force on the body by spreading it over the body's stronger parts (pelvis and chest area). In some severe accidents there is a risk of being ejected from the car. This is way less likely if the person is belted in.

In modern cars seatbelts are designed to work together with airbags. In a crash, the seatbelt slows the speed of the occupant so they impact safely with the airbag.

What happens to you if you’re not wearing 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. Even if the vehicle is fitted with an airbag, the force at which an unrestrained occupant strikes the airbag can cause serious injuries. 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.

Someone in the back seat without a seatbelt wouldn’t fare any better - they’d keep going forward until they whacked into something solid. Invariably this will be the front seat. In a severe crash, this impact is usually sufficient to break the seat. In this case, the front seatbelt has to restrain the front-seat occupant, the failed seat and rear occupant. Under this sort of load, the seatbelt might fail. This could lead to both front and rear occupants sustaining severe or fatal injuries.

Even after striking the seat in front, the momentum usually forces the rear occupant's upper body over the top of the seat. Apart from causing serious injuries, their head can strike a fatal blow to the front-seat occupant.

A properly adjust seatbelt provides the best protection

Seatbelt injuries are most often caused by mistakes with a seatbelt, especially badly adjusted seatbelts. A poorly adjusted seatbelt will allow the occupant to move forward in a crash and increase the risk of head contact with the car’s interior. Seatbelts should also be adjusted so that the lap portion lies across the bony section of the hips and the sash is across the chest and mid shoulder.

Wearing a seatbelt while pregnant

It is important you always wear a seatbelt throughout your pregnancy. Wearing a seatbelt protects yourself and your unborn baby in the event of a crash.

It is illegal not to wear a seatbelt unless a medical practitioner exempts you from wearing one for medical reasons. If a seatbelt is worn properly, there is very little pressure on your stomach. The best way to do this is by placing the lap part of the belt under your baby and low over your upper thighs, then place the sash part of the belt in between your breasts.

What about the kids?

Make sure kids are suitably restrained. There are laws for the type of restraints children of a certain age need to travel in.

While the law specifies the minimum, it’s safest to only move your child to the next type of restraint once they've outgrown their current restraint. The restraint you choose must meet the Australian standard and be properly fastened and adjusted.

The law on where children can sit in cars

There are also laws on where children can sit in a car.

  • From birth to under 4 years - children must travel in the back seat in cars with two or more rows of seats
  • 4 to younger than 7 years - children can only travel in the front seat if all available back seats are being used by younger children
  • 7 years and older - can legally travel in the front seat

While the law specifies a minimum, it is recommended to only allow your child to travel in the front seat when they are older than 12 years of age.

Are there fines for not wearing a seatbelt?


There are penalties and demerit points for drivers who do not wear a seatbelt. Passengers over 16 years who do not use an available seatbelt will be fined. Drivers are responsible for making sure passengers under 16 are properly restrained in seatbelts or approved child car seats. Seatbelt use is something the Police take very seriously. You are definitely on notice if you don’t buckle up.

The fatal mistake with seatbelts is that people still aren’t wearing them. Don’t make that mistake.

Written by Nicholas Platt, Senior Vehicle Engineer
July 07, 2016