Page last updated at 02:57 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 03:57 UK

Hundreds 'die without seatbelts'

Jimmy Saville
Jimmy Saville was the face of the 'Clunk-Click' seatbelt campaign

Fifty years after the invention of the modern car seatbelt, 400 people are still being killed each year because they fail to "belt up", a charity says.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) says Volvo's three-point belt design has saved one million lives worldwide.

But it says too many people are still ignoring safety warnings.

The Department for Transport said campaigns and on-the-spot fines were hoped to encourage more seatbelt use.

Volvo did not patent its three-point belt design, created in 1959, to encourage other carmakers to install the safety measure.

Archive footage of seatbelt testing and development - courtesy of Volvo

As a result seatbelts were widely fitted from the 1970s.

Robert Gifford, of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety charity, said seatbelts had saved 35,000 lives in the UK during the last 25 years.

However, Rospa's road safety manager Duncan Vernon said lives were still being "needlessly lost" despite the invention's success.

In 1983 seat belt use in front of vehicles becomes compulsory
Back seat belt use by children becomes law in 1989; extended to adults in 1991
Of 1,432 car occupants killed in 2007, 34% had not 'belted up'
In 1982, 37% of drivers wore seatbelts - by 2007, it was 94%
An estimated 565 people were not using a seatbelt when killed in 2005. Some 370 may have survived if properly restrained
Source: Department for Transport

"Wearing a seatbelt is one way you can drastically increase your chances of survival in a crash, even if it's just a short journey or you don't think it's necessary to put one on," he said.

"As we get new drivers every week, it's important that everyone hears the message about how seatbelt wearing is important."

The first government campaigns in the 1970s featured Jimmy Saville imploring motorists to: "Clunk the car door. Click the seat belt. Even if you are just going round the corner: Clunk Click Every Trip."

By 1982, it had succeeded in convincing about 40% of car drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seatbelts.

That figure topped 93% when their use in front seats became compulsory a year later and it is now close to 95%.

However, just over two-thirds of adults wear seatbelts in back seats - despite it being made law in 1991 - and similar figures apply to people in vans.

Younger drivers

Department for Transport research puts the number of people killed annually while not wearing a seatbelt at about 565 and estimates close to 370 would have survived if they had been restrained.

Its research showed the peak age for not wearing seatbelts was 21 to 25.

A spokesman said: "Road deaths are at an all time low in the UK but we know that a life could be saved every day if all drivers and passengers belted up every time they got in a car.

"That is why the government runs hard-hitting advertising campaigns highlighting the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt and has recently doubled the fixed penalty for not wearing a seatbelt [to £60]."

Its latest campaign, launched last year at a cost of £2.6m, shows graphic images of the damage that can be caused to internal organs in road crashes when people do not wear seatbelts.

The maximum fine in the courts for not wearing a seatbelt is £500.

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