Sales enquiries: 0330 159 1111

Press Releases

Vehicle deaths at an all-time low 30 years after seat belt law

31 Jan 2014 at 09:50

No more delays in addressing young drivers’ safety issue, urges RAC

Since it became compulsory to wear seat belts in the front seat on 31 January 1983, fatalities in vehicles have fallen to an all-time low.

RAC analysis of 30 years of Department for Transport road casualty statistics shows that at the end of that year 2,245* people lost their lives in vehicles whilst 28,331 were seriously injured.

In 2012, the latest figures available, fatalities had fallen to 888 – a 60% reduction of 1,357 since 1983 – and serious injuries are down to 9,258 – a 67% reduction of 19,073.

While vehicle safety technology has advanced dramatically in this time with the introduction of airbags, anti-lock braking systems, side impact protection, improved structural design and other safety features, seat belts have undoubtedly made a big contribution to saving lives. The law requiring front seat passengers to wear belts was followed by further legislation requiring children in the back of vehicles to wear seat belts in April 1989 and then adults in the rear seats to wear belts on 1 July 1991.

RAC technical director David Bizley said: “Clearly a number of factors have contributed to the reduction in the number of in-vehicle fatalities in road accidents. Technology and better design have made cars much safer in crash situations than they were 30 years ago and enforcement has also changed dramatically with the introduction of both fixed and mobile speed cameras.

“It’s important to remember that the number of lives lost has decreased dramatically despite the fact we now have 14m more vehicles on our roads today than we had back in 1983**.

“If we cast our minds back to 1983, not everyone could see the benefits of wearing a seat belt. Today, however, seat belt wearing compliance is extremely high by virtue of the fact fastening the seat belt has become automatic for almost everyone getting into a car, something which has become ingrained behaviour in each successive car-using generation.

“We should look upon the introduction of the law making the wearing of seat belts compulsory as a key milestone in our motoring history as it resulted in a step-change in our safety in vehicles. Nevertheless, over those 30 years 57,300 people still lost their lives in vehicles and 642,396 suffered serious injuries.

“We now have to ask ourselves where further reductions in road-related deaths and injuries are going to come from and action to improve the safety record of younger drivers has to take top priority. The Government’s decision to delay indefinitely the green paper on this subject is particularly disappointing.”

Young drivers aged under 25 make up 25% of all those drivers killed or seriously injured on the road network, but account for only 8% of licence holders. They also drive, on average, less than half as far as those aged over 25. This is a problem that needs to be addressed urgently.

The RAC has for some time been calling for a reform of driving education for young people and the introduction of graduated driving licences with a minimum supervised learning period and restrictions on the number of passengers permitted in the car so this is a very positive step towards preventing the loss of young lives on our roads.

David Bizley added: “While the issues surrounding young drivers are indeed emotive and varied, it is essential not to lose sight of the fact that they are still the most likely group of drivers to be seriously injured or killed on the roads.

“Our research shows that young drivers are willing to consider extra training and many admit to feeling nervous and anxious about driving at night, on motorways and in adverse weather. They also pay the price for their relatively high safety risk in very high insurance premiums, but we know that telematics ‘black box’ technology can lower premiums for those consistently demonstrating safe driving as well as playing an important role in helping to reduce accidents involving young motorists.

“We want to see concerted action from the Government, insurers and other stakeholder groups to address a problem that is a top priority for improving safety on our roads. Further delays could lead to yet more lives being lost.”

RAC Report on Motoring 2013 young driver statistics:

  • 30% admit they did not feel confident having passed their driving test
  • 53% of young drivers would have liked supervised driving practice on the motorway as part of learning to drive
  • 53% admit they are sometimes nervous about driving in adverse weather conditions
  • 35% of young drivers felt the standard driving test does not cover all the skills required to cope with the demands of driving today
  • 45% would have liked to learn more about safe driving at school


If you are a journalist and would like further information, please contact:

RAC@ / 0117 964 6664

Simon Williams: 0161 452 4242 / 07725 822107 /

Notes to Editors

* Statistics calculated from vehicle occupant fatalities and serious injuries using:

  • Department for Transport Reported fatalities by road user type, Great Britain 1979 – 2012 (RAS30060)
  • Department for Transport Reported killed or seriously injured casualties by road user type, Great Britain 1979 – 2012 (RAS30061).

** 20.2m licensed vehicles in 1983; 34.5m in 2012 - Licensed vehicles by tax class, Great Britain, annually from 1909

About RAC

With around seven million members, the RAC is one of the UK's most progressive motoring organisations, providing services for both private and business motorists. Whether it's roadside assistance, insurance, buying a used car, vehicle inspections and checks, legal services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information – the RAC offers a solution for all motoring needs. The RAC is committed to making motoring easier, safer, more affordable and more enjoyable for drivers and road users.

The RAC is the motorist’s champion and campaigns to support the interests of its members and UK motorists at a national level, including advancing levels of road safety, supporting the needs of young drivers and voicing concerns about the increasing cost of motoring. The RAC’s annual Report on Motoring survey, now in its 25th year, provides a clear insight into the concerns and issues facing today’s motorists.

For the very latest news on UK fuel prices visit our Fuel Prices Explained pages – Here we detail the average UK price of petrol and diesel and give an indication of which way prices are likely to go – up or down – over the next couple of weeks based on the wholesale price. You can also discover more about the fuel industry, what affects UK fuel prices, how they compare those in Europe, how motorists are taxed and top-tips for better fuel economy. 

The RAC supports FairFuelUK campaigning for fairer taxes on petrol and diesel. Show support and find out more at

Key facts:

  • RAC patrols fix four out of five vehicles at the roadside and on an average within 37 minutes
  • The RAC has more patrols per member than any other breakdown provider
  • 98% of members would recommend RAC Rescue to their friends and family

RAC press releases, news alerts and a wealth of motoring research is available from

Follow us on Twitter:

Follow us on Facebook:

Our press team can:

  • Answer all RAC-related media enquiries
  • Provide motoring advice for publication
  • Comment on topical driving stories
  • Arrange interviews with RAC spokespeople - ISDN radio studio facilities available

Breakdown Cover
Choose a level of cover from just £5.50 a month
Breakdown Cover_img Join here