Motor industry celebrates twenty years of belting up (and reminds motorists to buckle up)

31 January 2003 #SMMT News

If you drove to work this morning, you probably helped celebrate the anniversary of a major landmark in vehicle safety.

Today is the 20th anniversary of compulsory seat belt use. It was 31 January 1983 when legislation came into force making drivers and front seat passengers belt up on every journey.

Manufacturers had been fitting seat belts to new models since 1967, but it took another 16 years for the law to be passed making us use them. Throughout the 1970s, campaigns tried to get us to use seat belts voluntarily, perhaps the most memorable being the TV ads featuring Sir Jimmy Saville.

Today’s motorists – and pedestrians – benefit from a wide range of safety equipment fitted to modern cars. Passive measures such as seat belts, side protection beams, airbags and crumple zones complement active features like ABS, run flat tyres and stability control systems. All of which have helped cut road deaths and serious injuries by more than fifty per cent in the last twenty years.

To celebrate today’s anniversary, an exhibition featuring displays of state-of-the-art cars, commercial vehicles and components is being held at SMMT’s central London offices. The event is hosted jointly by SMMT and the safety partnership RoadSafe and is expected to attract more than 200 road safety professionals, government officials and representatives of safety organisations.

SMMT Chief Executive Christopher Macgowan said, ‘Today is a significant milestone in road safety history. Seat belts have prevented thousands of casualties in the last thirty years and will continue to do so in the future.

‘New vehicles in the 21st century are kitted out with a myriad life saving and damage limiting features but roads still account for an unacceptable number of casualties. So perhaps today is a good opportunity to remind all motorists to take one of the most important steps to protect themselves and clunk-click, even on the shortest trip.’

Commenting during last year’s British International Motor Show, Prime Minister Rt Hon Tony Blair MP praised the industry’s achievements saying, ‘We’re moving forward. We’re at the cutting edge of all the right things from technology and innovation to road safety, all the areas we need to be in. And the government is totally committed to this industry, one hundred per cent.’

Steve Norris, Chairman of RoadSafe added, ‘ Car makers have hugely improved vehicle safety in recent years with features such as air bags and side impact protection increasingly being fitted as standard. However the biggest impact on passenger safety would be getting every occupant, front or rear, to just use the simplest of all these safety aids – the seat belt – every time they travel. Over 2,000 lives are saved every year by seat belts. Don’t risk yours by not bothering.’

The seat belt time line:

1958 – Nils Bohlin, a Volvo design engineer, patents the three-point safety harness

1967 UK – New cars fitted with front seat belts by law

1969 UK – Seat belts included in MOT test

1970s UK – Clunk-click advertising encourages us to belt up

1983 UK – Compulsory wearing of front seat belts

1987 UK – New cars have to be fitted with rear seat belts

1989 UK – Seat belts, if fitted, have to worn by children under 14

1991 UK – Rear seat belts included in MOT test

1991 UK – Seat belts, if fitted, have to be worn by all rear seat passengers

For a full presentation of SMMT’s SAFETY DAY:


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