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Heads Up, Thumbs Down, Buckled In – Distracted Driving and Seatbelt Misuse

3 minute read

Seatbelt misuse and distracted driving continue to take too many lives on the roads.

As responsible drivers, we know wearing a seatbelt is mandatory and we know we shouldn’t take our eyes off the road, but what’s the reality?


In Australia, 2% of drivers do not always use their seatbelts. This percentage seems small but that’s over half a million people. In Victoria, that equates to 88,000 drivers who are not always properly buckled in. This was 31 of the 266 people lost on Victorian roads in 2019 – and one in five crash victims overall.

In South Australia, nearly one in four crash fatalities were not wearing a seatbelt. Of those who died in an accident not wearing a seatbelt, half were reported to have been thrown out of the vehicle on impact.

The main reasons for not wearing a seatbelt seem to be thinking that seatbelts are not necessary, belief that an accident is unlikely and physical discomfort.

But the reason we need to wear a seatbelt is simple – to stay alive.

The main functions of seatbelts are to:

  • Reduce the risk of being ejected from the vehicle
  • Spread the force of the impact over the stronger parts of the body (pelvis and chest)
  • Slow down the speed of the occupant to impact safely with the airbag
  • Keep the occupant strapped in at the same speed/rate as the vehicle
  • Prevent the occupant from colliding with the steering wheel and dashboard in a crash

Wearing a seatbelt properly doubles your chance of survival in a crash – not wearing a seatbelt properly halves it.


Inattention is reportedly the primary cause of nearly 30% of fatal crashes and 45% of serious injury crashes each year.

The three main types of distractions are cognitive distractions that take our minds off the road, visual distractions that take our eyes off the road and manual distractions that take our hands off the wheel. Even the most practiced of actions like drinking water from a bottle can cause terrible outcomes when driving.

When you look away for two seconds travelling at 60km/h you travel 33m completely blind – that’s five metres more than the length of a basketball court.

In Western Australia, 524 people were killed or seriously injured in inattention-related accidents between 2016-2020. With 30% of young drivers admitting to having used their mobile phones for texting while driving and 60% of Australian drivers admitting to using their mobile phones illegally, it’s no wonder this has become such a big focus of road safety campaigns in recent years.

In 2019 new mobile phone detection cameras appeared in New South Wales, with fines introduced from March 1. Over $60 million has been issued in fines, meaning that anywhere between 13,000-17,600 drivers have been caught putting their lives at risk for the sake of looking at their phones.

While mobile phones are a huge source of distraction, we sometimes forget that passengers are distractions too. Distraction caused by passenger interaction was the cause of 3.2% of fatal crashes. This escalates with young drivers who are five times more likely to get into a car accident if other young adult passengers are in the car.

We’ve previously looked into the other three factors making up the Five Fatal Factors – speeding (read here), drink driving (read here) and fatigue driving (read here).

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