A RISING number of drivers and passengers in Strathclyde are gambling with their lives by refusing to wear seat belts.

As the law on belting up marks its 30th anniversary, a senior police officer has revealed that despite the long established legislation, more people are flouting the rules and ignoring the deadly risks.

The number of people caught not wearing safety belts in Strathclyde is up more than 30% in a year.

In the last nine months, Strathclyde Police has swooped on 20,166 people breaking the safety belt law.

During the same period the previous year it caught 15,346 – marking a year on year increase of 31.4%.

Roads policing Superintendent Jim Baird said he was disappointed with the increase and added: "Despite seat belts laws being in place for 30 years, there are still people who fail to wear them – putting themselves at risk.

"More than 20,000 people have been caught not wearing a seat belt since April last year.

"This is disappointing and clearly illustrates that people are still prepared to gamble with their lives."

If you crash at 30mph, and are unrestrained, your body will hit anything in front of you – including another passenger or driver – with a force of between 30 and 60 times your own body weight.

In the most serious crashes drivers and passengers are thrown from the vehicle.

Wearing a seat belt reduces your risk of being killed by half and severely limits the likelihood of other injuries.

It also keeps the wearer in the correct position to benefit from in-car air bags.

Since wearing a seat belt became compulsory by law on January 31, 1983, more than 50,000 lives have been saved, injuries from collisions reduced dramatically and millions of pounds health care resources saved.

But one in three people killed in car accidents in Scotland are still found to have not worn seat belts and safety experts say that half of those would have survived if they had belted up.

Neil Greig, director of policy and research with the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said he was alarmed by the increase.

He said: "It is a concern police are still having to actively pursue these people, despite the law having been in force for so long.

"There have also been a number of high-profile awareness campaigns over the years.

"The grim reality is that if you are not wearing a seat belt and are thrown against a windscreen in a crash you are likely to suffer very serious facial and head injuries."

HE added: "The result of smashing into a steering column with force is that you will suffer chest injuries.

"And if you are ejected from the car with force you are 25% more likely to die.

"There are also a whole host of other injuries associated with the soft tissue of a human body being thrown around the metal box that is a car.

"Most people get into a car and instinctively put on a seat belt. But unfortunately there are those who continue to flout the law.

"I have heard a whole range of excuses for this, ranging from those who are worried they will become trapped in the car if there is a fire to people who fear that if the car flips upside down they will be stuck inside the vehicle.

"Another concern I have heard from Scottish drivers particularly is that they worried about their seat belt trapping them if they crash into a river.

"The reality is that these are very rare occurrences and no excuse for not belting up."

Every road fatality costs the Scottish economy £1.94 million.

Safety campaigners say the cost of road deaths where seat belts are not worn is estimated to be £101m per year.

Superintendent Baird added: "Failing to wear a seat belt greatly increases the chance of serious injury or death – our message is clear, seat belts save lives, so please belt up."

If you are caught not wearing a seat belt you could be fined anything from a fixed penalty notice of £60 up to £500.

Drivers are also responsible to make sure that children are properly protected with a the appropriate restraints for their weight, age and size.