By now, Australian drivers get it. Wearing a seatbelt could save your life.
But sometimes you just need to unclip your belt – like, when you’re wearing a jumper, and suddenly you’re too hot. So is it illegal to undo your seatbelt while you’re driving?
Yes, in short. So if you’re too hot and you really have to take your jacket or hoodie off, wind down the window and let in some cold air, or pump the A/C until it’s safe to stop. Your wallet and licence might thank you for it.
- Seatbelts are a crucial and critical safety item, and should be worn at all times where practicable
- There are seatbelt use exceptions for some situations in some states
- If you are found to be breaking the law there are penalties
And don’t go telling your friends or family members that they can happily unclip while you’re driving, either – there are fines for other vehicle occupants not wearing seatbelts, too.
There are some different exemptions based on the Australian jurisdictions, but here’s a rundown on the seatbelt laws across the nation, and the penalties applicable if you’re not wearing a seatbelt.
$362 fine, three demerits: If you’re caught not wearing a seatbelt while driving, you could be fined and hit with three demerits. If you have other occupants in the vehicle who aren’t wearing their seatbelt, the same fine can apply. So, if you’re driving an SUV with eight seats and no-one’s wearing a belt, you’re looking at a mega fine and the loss of your driving licence for years. Plus, if any of your passengers are over the age of 16, they will also be fined for not wearing a seatbelt! If you drive “with 4 or more unrestrained passengers” you could be fined $1472 and cop six demerits.
There are some exemptions for fully licenced drivers when it comes to seatbelt use in NSW. “Drivers with a full (unrestricted) licence do not have to wear a seatbelt when they are: reversing their vehicle; driving a garbage or delivery vehicle travelling below 25km/h and need to get out regularly. Passengers travelling with a driver with a full licence do not have to wear a seatbelt if they are: getting or giving urgent and necessary medical treatment; in a garbage or delivery vehicle travelling below 25km/h and need to get out regularly.”
$330 fine, three demerits: As with NSW, it’s the driver’s responsibility to ensure that “all passengers are wearing seat belts or child restraints correctly”, and “there is only one person in each seating position and seat belt”.
If a driver fails to ensure that a passenger over 16 years of age is wearing a properly fastened and adjusted seatbelt (the shoulder strap over the shoulder, and the belt done up low and tight – as is the guideline in all jurisdictions – they could be penalised to the same extent as driving without a seatbelt. Passengers can also be fined $330.
$1078 fine, four demerits: QLD has some of the most severe seatbelt laws in the country, with drivers in line to cop four points and a fine in excess of a grand for driving without a seatbelt on. Any passenger not wearing a seatbelt while you’re driving could add to that penalty in multiples.
There are similar exceptions for seatbelt use in Queensland, and you are exempt from wearing a seatbelt if “you are the driver and are reversing the vehicle”, or if you “carry a current seatbelt exemption certificate, signed by an Australian doctor registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency”, which may be applicable if you have a medical condition or disability, or if you are a delivery driver and travel at “no more than 25km/h”.
Further, if your car was made before seatbelts were part of the manufacturing process – however, only occupants aged seven (7) or over are permitted to travel in a vehicle without seatbelts. You are required to get in and out of the vehicle frequently while engaged in door-to-door pick-up or delivery of goods, and you drive at no more than 25km/h.
Those (not so?) laidback Queenslanders even have a specific notation in their rules around seatbelt use regarding reclining your seat: “If you recline your seat: You must ensure that the seat belt is still across your shoulder and chest. You and the driver may receive a fine, if your seatbelt is not properly fastened or adjusted when you’ve reclined your seat too far or fully.”
$403 fine, three demerits: In SA it’s pretty clear – if you are found to be driving and you fail to wear a seatbelt, you could be fined $403 and hit with three demerits. If you have a passenger with you who is not wearing a seatbelt (16 years or older), it’s the same penalty again.
If you fail to ensure one passenger under 16 years old are is wearing a seat belt or approved restraint, the fine and demerits are the same, but for more than one passenger under 16 years being unbuckled or incorrectly seated, the fine is $476 and five demerits.
$550 fine, four demerits: WA has a pretty strong stance on seatbelt use and stats to back it up. The WA Transport office states tat between 2016 and 2020, 408 people who were killed or seriously injured in road crashes were not wearing seatbelts.
The law is that all occupants must wear a seatbelt if fitted, and that: “Seat belts are designed to be used by only one person at a time. Doubling up, fastening a seatbelt around two people is both illegal and unsafe.”
There is a lengthy list of different penalties and points considerations, and the biggest state comes down hard on buckled-up drivers with unrestrained passengers:
- Unrestrained Driver – $550 – 4 demerits
- Unrestrained Driver with 1 unrestrained passenger – $600 – 4 demerits
- Unrestrained Driver with 2 unrestrained passengers – $700 – 4 demerits
- Unrestrained Driver with 3 unrestrained passengers – $800 – 4 demerits
- Unrestrained Driver with 4 or more unrestrained passengers – $900 – 4 demerits
- Restrained Driver with 1 unrestrained passenger – $550 – 4 demerits
- Restrained Driver with 2 unrestrained passengers – $600 – 4 demerits
Restrained Driver with 3 unrestrained passengers – $700 – 4 demerits
- Restrained Driver with 4 or more unrestrained passengers – $800 – 4 demerits
Your occupants can also cop a fine. Those over 16 without a seatbelt fastened (or not seated) could be hit with a $550 fine.
- Northern Territory – $200 fine, no demerits: The Northern Territory seemingly has the most lax approach to seatbelt safety, with no demerits applicable for not wearing a seatbelt as a driver ($200 fine). And if an adult passenger fails to wear a belt, it’s a $200 fine as well, while the driver is liable if a “child or young person” fails to wear a seatbelt ($240 fine).
An interesting rule around child restraints in the NT. The Territory’s Traffic Regulations documentation states that: “A person must not drive a vehicle with a child under the age of 12 months in the vehicle unless the child is restrained in an approved child restraint”, and that “a seat belt is taken to be a suitable restraint for a child over the age of 12 months”. In other jurisdictions, there are more specific and strict rules around child seat restraints.
- Tasmania – $362 fine, three demerits: The rules in Tassie are similar to the other jurisdictions, with a three-point penalty and sizeable fine for “Driver fail to wear properly adjusted and fastened seatbelt (when vehicle moving/stationary, but not parked)”.
A $362 fine applies if a passenger (aged 16 or over) is not wearing a “properly adjusted and fastened seatbelt (when vehicle moving/stationary, but not parked)”; and a driver could be hit with another three demerits for an occupant under 16 years not being buckled up (and a further $362).
- ACT – $521 fine, three demerits: In the ACT, a driver can be fined $521 and hit with three demerits for “seatbelt not adjusted/fastened”. There are myriad other further penalties relating to passengers as well, including some that include demerit points for the driver being responsible for their passengers.
Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.