Official Statistics

Seatbelt wearing rates: Great Britain 2021

Published 28 July 2022

About this release

This release provides an overview on the proportion of drivers and passengers wearing seatbelts whilst driving in Great Britain, from a roadside observation survey carried out in autumn 2021.

While observations were made at the same sites as in the previous 2017 survey, a different, video-based observation method was used in 2021. Results are therefore not directly comparable and this should be kept in mind when considering changes from the previous survey.

Headline figures

The results of this observational survey show that, during weekdays in Great Britain, levels of seatbelt wearing remain high overall and are broadly unchanged over recent surveys. However, reported road casualty statistics show that a much higher proportion of car occupant fatalities are not wearing seatbelts.

In 2021 in Great Britain:

  • 94.8% of all drivers were observed using a seatbelt, compared to 96.5% in 2017

  • 94.6% of all front seat passengers were observed using a seatbelt, compared to 93.1% in 2017

  • 91.5% of all rear seat passengers were observed using a seatbelt, compared to 90.7% in 2017

  • for rear seat passengers, wearing rates were higher for children than adults, in line with previous surveys

  • seatbelt wearing rates varied notably by vehicle type, and were higher for cars and lower for other types of vehicle

The latest road casualty statistics for 2020 show that 23% of car occupant fatalities in reported road collisions were not wearing a seatbelt. This indicates that car occupants who do not wear a seatbelt are disproportionately likely to be killed in road collisions.

Things you need to know


Since 1988 the Department for Transport has commissioned surveys of seatbelt wearing by vehicle occupants on the national road network. The results of the seatbelt survey can be used to assess compliance with the legislation in Great Britain and are useful for monitoring high level trends at a national level.


The restraint being used by each vehicle occupant was recorded as: seatbelt, rear facing baby seat, child seat, booster seat, booster cushion or unrestrained. Unrestrained includes improperly used seatbelts or child restraints.


Observations of driver mobile phone use were made from video captured at a total of 60 ‘stationary’ sites (for example, at traffic light junctions) across England, Scotland and Wales. Sites were surveyed once on a weekday (either morning or afternoon) with some also surveyed on weekends. Further details are in the quality and methodology section and the accompanying technical report.


Results are presented for weekdays to ensure the results are comparable as possible with previous surveys. This release provides proportions for Great Britain. Comparisons have also been made between England and Wales and Scotland in the accompanying data tables.

Overall seatbelt use by seating position

Overall, seatbelt wearing rates for vehicle occupants In Great Britain remained high in 2021, with wearing rates estimated as 94.8% for drivers, 94.6% for front seat passengers and 91.5% for rear seat passengers.

The level of driver seatbelt wearing was similar for England and Wales compared to Scotland in 2021 though passenger wearing rates were slightly higher in Scotland. In all countries, wearing rates for car occupants are higher than those for all vehicles.

Chart 1: Seatbelt use by seating position, Great Britain, 2021

Longer term trends can be compared most consistently for car occupants (including taxi and private hire vehicles) for England and Wales, though changes in the survey methodology should be kept in mind when interpreting these figures.

Since 1999, overall seatbelt use for car occupants has broadly risen. The biggest increase has been observed for adult rear seat passengers, from 54.0% in England in 1999 to 83.8% in England and Wales in 2021. Over the same time period, driver, front seat and child rear seat passenger rates have always been higher and have remained broadly stable since 2009.

Chart 2: Overall seatbelt use for car occupants (including taxi and private hire vehicles), England (1999 to 2014), England and Wales (2017 and 2021)

Various changes in the methodology and geographical coverage of the survey sites mean that figures are not directly comparable between years and so changes should be interpreted with caution. Additionally, these are estimates from a sample of vehicles observed and therefore subject to sampling error (which has not been calculated here).

By vehicle type

The highest rate of seatbelt use amongst drivers was observed in cars in Great Britain in 2021, and the lowest proportion was observed in taxis. This is similar to the previous survey in 2017. The lower wearing rate for taxis is likely to reflect the exemptions from wearing a seatbelt for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers, and is also based on a very small number of vehicles observed.

Chart 3: Driver seatbelt use by vehicle type, Great Britain, 2021

By sex and age

For all drivers in Great Britain, males had a lower rate of seatbelt use compared to females in 2021 (93.7% compared to 96.9%). There was a broadly similar pattern for front seat passengers (92.6% compared to 95.9%).

Across all drivers and front seat passengers, seatbelt wearing rates were higher amongst those estimated to be aged 60 and over (97.5% for drivers and 99.5% for front seat passengers), compared to other age groups.

For rear seat passengers, seatbelt wearing rates were lower for the age groups 14 to 29 and 30 to 59 than for child ages, however the number of rear seat passengers observed was much lower than in previous surveys (see box below) so that estimates for those aged 60 and over could not be produced. These figures should therefore be interpreted with caution.

Chart 4: Seatbelt use by age and seating position, Great Britain, 2021

Due to the methodology adopted for the 2021 survey, the number of rear seat passengers observed was lower than in previous surveys as the angle of cameras did not always give a clear view of rear seat passengers. As a result, the figures for rear seat passengers in particular should be treated with caution. For the same reason, further breakdowns of child passengers by age group or restraint type cannot be presented for 2021 data.

Other variables

A range of other variables was captured in the observational survey. The main points are summarised here, with further detail in the accompanying data tables.

Road type. Driver seatbelt wearing rates varied little by road type in 2021, though a slightly higher proportion of drivers were observed using seatbelts on urban roads in Great Britain than rural roads.

Day of week. For drivers and passengers in Great Britain, seatbelt use was higher on weekends compared to weekdays (as in 2017). Headline statistics were calculated for weekdays for comparability with earlier years but some sites were observed at weekends to enable comparisons to be made.

Time of day. Video was analysed for different time periods, to match the approach of previous observational surveys. In 2021, there was no clear pattern in seatbelt use by time of day and it is likely that results are affected by random variation as there are relatively small numbers of observations for some time periods.

Road casualty statistics

The observational survey results present high-level estimates of seatbelt wearing during daylight hours. This hides potential variations between areas, different groups or for periods not observed (for example evening and night). Previous research (PDF 814KB), has shown that although overall daytime wearing rates are high, for some types of driver or journey, they can be lower.

Seatbelt wearing is recorded for those involved in personal injury road collisions reported to police and collected via the STATS19 road casualty dataset. This information is not complete, particularly for non-fatalities. Even for car occupant fatalities, seatbelt wearing status was unknown in 47% of cases in the latest year for which data is available (2020). Nonetheless, these figures show that wearing rates are much lower for those killed in road accidents than in general traffic as indicated by the observational surveys.

The table shows the estimated proportion of car occupant fatalities based on police road casualty data, showing that, of those where seatbelt wearing status is known, around a quarter of those killed were unrestrained.

Table 1: proportion of car occupant fatalities with seatbelt not worn, Great Britain from 2013 (STATS19 data). Seatbelt worn includes both where independently confirmed, and where not independently confirmed. Further detail is available in the STATS20 guidance.

Year 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Seatbelt worn 187 267 228 339 299 300 311 250
Seatbelt not worn 45 69 66 85 110 105 93 75
Seatbelt status unknown 553 461 460 392 378 372 332 293
% seatbelt not worn 19% 21% 22% 20% 27% 26% 23% 23%

Overall, across the last 5 years for which data are available, 24% of car occupant fatalities were not wearing a seatbelt. This rate varied by age, sex and collision circumstances, for example, based on this 5 year dataset:

  • 28% of male fatalities were not wearing a seatbelt, compared to 16% of females
  • 32% of those aged 17 to 29 were unrestrained, compared to 30% aged 30 to 59 and 11% of those 60 and over (and 17% aged 0 to 16)
  • there was no difference in wearing rates for driver and passenger fatalities
  • those killed between 8pm and 6am were much more likely to be not wearing a seatbelt than those killed between 6am and 8pm (39% compared to 17%)

Comparing severities – bearing in mind that for those slightly injured, around two-thirds of data is missing – shows that non-wearing rates are much higher for those killed (24%) than seriously injured (10%) or slightly injured (3%).

While a more detailed analysis of the STATS19 dataset would be possible, these figures illustrate that although wearing rates in observational surveys remain high, there are subgroups of the driving population where wearing rates may be lower and that those not wearing seatbelts remain over-represented in road fatalities.

Attitudes to seatbelt wearing

The National Travel Attitudes Survey (NTAS), includes two questions on attitudes to safety devices. In the latest wave of the survey, 86% of respondents disagreed that ‘it is not important to wear a seatbelt for journeys under 15 minutes’ with 12% agreeing.

Northern Ireland surveys

This publication covers Great Britain. Similar surveys of seatbelt wearing in Northern Ireland have been carried out, with the last in 2014. These reported overall high rates of seatbelt wearing, with drivers and front seat passengers in 2014 more likely to be restrained (98%) than back seat passengers (94%).

Quality and methodology

Comparison with previous surveys

Observational surveys of seatbelt use have been carried out since 1988, with a reduced frequency from 2009 onwards. Over this period the survey methodology including areas sampled and sites selected has changed several times, though all surveys up to 2017 were based on roadside observation.

For the 2021 survey, a video-based approach was used in an attempt to modernise the collection method. Rather than roadside observation, cameras were located at survey sites and the resulting video analysed at a later stage. While this used the same survey sites and collected the same data, there were some differences compared with the previous approach meaning that results are not directly comparable.

For the seatbelt surveys, results are based on stationary sites, those where observations have historically been made of vehicles waiting in a queue at traffic lights to allow ease of observation by roadside observers. For the video analysis in 2021, the same sites were used but rather than observers moving down a queue of traffic, analysis was done from video captured of all vehicles, including those moving through the junction without stopping.

While there are differences between the 2 approaches which mean comparisons should be made with caution, we consider that on the whole the observation of moving rather than stationary vehicles is unlikely to greatly impact the results (as car occupants are unlikely to put on or take off seatbelts while stationary - whereas, for example, they may be more likely to use a mobile device).

Strengths and weaknesses

Strengths. These observational studies provide an indication of the extent of seatbelt wearing by vehicle occupants in traffic at any one time, rather than relying on self-reporting. They allow any large changes in wearing rates to be detected and allow monitoring of broad trends over time contributing to understanding the scale of seatbelt wearing.

The video-based approach used in 2021 has the advantage of allowing cross-checking for quality assurance, particularly for observations of non-compliance.

Limitations. Caution is required in interpretation of these results. Overall a relatively small proportion of vehicles were observed which means results are subject to sample variation, particularly for smaller subsets (for example, particular vehicle types).

In general, smaller changes or differences between groups should be interpreted carefully and the value of the survey is in detecting larger changes for bigger subgroups at national level. This is likely to mask genuine differences at local level. The observation method also means results are limited to daylight hours, which does not provide information on non-compliance during evening and night, which may be different (as suggested by the road casualty statistics above).

For some sites and sessions in 2021, the quality of video was not sufficient for robust analysis (for example due to weather conditions affecting visibility or the location of the camera limiting what could be observed). Other sites were over-sampled to account for this and survey weights adjusted accordingly.

There is also evidence that the proportion of rear seat passengers, female and, particularly, older drivers was lower in the 2021 survey, and the vehicle mix was also somewhat different (with fewer taxis observed). While this could reflect changes in the traffic mix compared with previous surveys and post-pandemic, it is likely that the nature of the observation method had an impact. This is particularly the case for rear seat passengers, where the video observation made it difficult to assess both presence of passengers and seatbelt wearing at some of the sites (largely related to camera positioning).

Background information

Seatbelt legislation

In Great Britain, the law states that, whilst travelling in cars, vans and other goods vehicles a seatbelt must be worn if one is fitted. Use of a seatbelt restraint by drivers and front seat passengers in cars was made compulsory in January 1983. Rear seatbelt use was made compulsory for cars with belts fitted for children in 1989 and adults in 1991.

However, there are exceptions where a seatbelt does not need to be worn. Drivers of licenced taxis in Great Britain are exempt from wearing a seatbelt whilst seeking hire, or answering a call for hire, or carrying a passenger for hire. Drivers of private hire vehicles are also exempt from wearing a seatbelt when the vehicle is being used to carry a passenger for hire.

The results of the seatbelt survey can be used to assess compliance with this legislation in Great Britain. Further information on the law on wearing a seatbelt whilst travelling in a vehicle, and on cases where a seatbelt does not need to be worn is published on the GOV.UK website.

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