In the last five years, over 300 people who died in New Zealand crashes were not wearing their seat belt.

Most of those deaths were in 2016.

The Herald, partnered by the New Zealand Police has launched Belt Up - a four day series about seatbelt safety aiming to raise awareness and improve safety for all Kiwis on our roads.

Police say many of the 93 people who died in crashes last year while not properly restrained, could have survived had they been wearing a seatbelt.

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Today we find out what is happening out on our roads.

Our message is simple.

Seatbelts save lives - Belt Up New Zealand.

Around 93 per cent of Kiwis belt up when they get into a car - but there are still hundreds of people out there who don't, and risk their lives every time they make that choice.

The Herald spent a few hours out on the streets of Auckland with police to see first hand who isn't wearing seatbelts, and why.

At 7.30am Universal Drive in Henderson is an ever-moving line of traffic - commuters, parents doing drop-offs, buses, truckies, couriers and others making their way up and down the arterial route between Lincoln Rd and the outer suburbs of West Auckland

None of the drivers is aware a police compliance operation is about to kick off, and they are all going to be under the spotlight.

A team of road policing officers, led by Acting Inspector John Bleackly and Sergeant Brian Leslie, arrive and assemble near the corner of Universal Dr and Tudor Rd.

A few dozen cars pass the checkpoint, the police in their high vis vests and the bright orange road cones a dead giveaway they are on the hunt for lawbreakers, and then the first offender is spotted.

An officer stationed several hundred metres down the road sees the driver isn't wearing his seatbelt and radios down to Constable Simon Luafalealo who motions for the man to head around into Tudor Rd for a chat.

By the time Luafalealo approaches the driver's window, his seatbelt is buckled.

But the constable isn't having a bar of it and tells the driver he's up for a fine - he's been spotted, he's not getting away with it.

The driver concedes, and then launches into his excuse.

Police on the hunt for drivers without seatbelts in West Auckland. New Zealand Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs
Police on the hunt for drivers without seatbelts in West Auckland. New Zealand Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs

He's a produce delivery driver and spends much of his day jumping in and out of his truck.

"I was told by another officer that if I was driving at under 50km/h I didn't need to wear a seatbelt," he says.

He's come from Swanson and is on his way to the city - with no deliveries in between.

"You should have been wearing your seatbelt, whether you're going 50, 20 or 30km/h you have to wear it," Luafalealo tells him sternly.

The driver continues to protest - he's adamant that delivery drivers are exempt from seatbelt rules - as Luafalealo inputs his details for the $150 infringement ticket.

It would have taken him two seconds to belt up - that's $75 of fine per second he could have avoided.

"Not wearing a seatbelt is one of the main causes of accidents," Luafalealo tells the driver, who is still arguing about his special rules.

"You always have to wear your seatbelt, there are no exceptions to it."

Leslie explains there are no special rules for any particular drivers on New Zealand roads when it comes to seatbelts - every person must be appropriately restrained at all times - but fines are at the discretion of police.

Delivery drivers, for newspapers, mail or other goods, and other people carrying out jobs where they are "required to alight and re-enter the vehicle frequently" are usually given leniency by police as long as they are actually doing their job at the time, being safe and travelling at less than 50km/h.

"We consider these people to be professional drivers," Leslie explained.

"So it's about leniency."

Police checking drivers for seatbelt compliance on Universal Drive in Henderson, West Auckland. New Zealand Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs
Police checking drivers for seatbelt compliance on Universal Drive in Henderson, West Auckland. New Zealand Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs

As well as offending drivers, police are also stopping anyone with a child seat and sending them around the corner where Plunket and Auckland Transport staff are there to check they are properly fitted and give advice.

Plunket estimates that more than half of car seats are incorrectly fitted, meaning thousands of Kiwi kids are at risk every day.

They jump in and out of cars making sure the seats are fitted, attached and buckled properly, pulling a couple right out to show the parents how they've done it wrong and how to keep their babies safe in future.

In one car they find, disappointingly, a toddler totally unrestrained in between front seats and his brother in a booster in the back seat without a seatbelt.

Both parents were wearing their own seatbelts.

West Auckland commuters are checked for seatbelt compliance. While most were wearing them, a few were snapped. New Zealand Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs
West Auckland commuters are checked for seatbelt compliance. While most were wearing them, a few were snapped. New Zealand Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs

Meanwhile, out on Universal another unbelted driver is spotted - and he's on his phone.

He passes the first patrol car, the spotter, and then pulls up on his own to chat to the team.

He knows he's sprung, and he takes his fines, belts up, and carries on his way.

Another woman is stopped, she's got her belt on but there's no way it would save her in a crash.

She's got it buckled, but it's not across her chest, it's looped under her arm and would do
more harm than good if she was in a collision.

"It's not comfortable," she says, irritated at the officer speaking to her through her window.

He's not having it.

"Every time you hop in this car, I expect you to think 'I'm going to wear it properly'," he says..

"Wearing it like that is like not wearing one at all."

It's heartening to see that only a handful of drivers were driving unrestrained, but it's school holidays when we're out there, and Leslie says there have been more pulled over on a normal morning.

"In two years we have seen the number of seatbelt deaths almost double," Bleackly says.

"We had two quite close together where people were thrown from their car and if they'd been wearing a seatbelt they would have survived - the other people in the car did.

"It takes two seconds, it's so simple - it's not the Krypton Factor is it?."

Police speaking with West Auckland drivers about the importance of wearing seatbelts. New Zealand Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs
Police speaking with West Auckland drivers about the importance of wearing seatbelts. New Zealand Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs

WHO HAS TO WEAR A SEATBELT IN NZ?

Every person in a vehicle must wear a seatbelt or be adequately restrained in a child seat.

However, the law provides for some exceptions to these requirements:

• Where the person has a certificate from a medical practitioner confirming use of a seatbelt or child restraint is impracticable or undesirable for medical reasons.

• If wearing a seatbelt the driver could not reasonably operate effectively the foot brake, handbrake, direction indicator, horn, windscreen wiper, choke or sun visor.

• If travelling in reverse and is unable to operate the vehicle in a safe manner.

• Where the person is a taxi driver plying for hire.
• If the person is delivering newspapers, mail or other goods, or servicing the vehicle, or meter reading or other similar duties, or spraying or other similar duties, and
is required to alight and re-enter the vehicle frequently, and the vehicle does not exceed 50km/h.

• If the person is an enforcement officer or prison officer travelling with another person who is not an enforcement officer or prison officer in circumstances in which it is impracticable or undesirable to wear a seatbelt.

• If the person is a driver or passenger on a bus.

• Passenger service vehicles where no appropriate child restraints are available.

• Goods service vehicles with an unladen weight exceeding 2000kg in which no seat belts are available.

• Motor vehicles first registered before 1 January 1955 in which no seat belts are available.

• Driving a motor vehicle that is being used by an enforcement officer in the execution of the enforcement officer's duty.

• Safety belts save lives.

• They support you if you're in a crash or when a vehicle stops suddenly.

• The force on safety belts can be as much as 20 times your weight - this is how hard you'd hit the inside of your vehicle without restraint.

• Wearing a safety belt reduces your chance of death or serious injury in a crash by 40 per cent.

• Whether you sit in the front or the back seat, the risk of serious or fatal injury is virtually the same.

• NZ law requires drivers and passengers in cars and other motor vehicles to wear seat belts and child restraints.

• In the last five years, over 300 people who died in NZ crashes were not wearing their seat belt.

• Many of these people would still be alive today if they were safely wearing their seat belt.

(Source NZTA, MOT, NZ Police)