Seatbelts in an older motorhome can be a problem. A lot of older motorhomes will not have enough seatbelts. You can retrofit seat belts into a motorhome but it is difficult.
Our motorhome was manufactured in 1990. During the 1990s and up to 2007 in the UK the wearing of seatbelts in the rear of a motorhome was not a legal requirement.
Times have changed and we are a lot more safety conscious for both ourselves and others.
Fitting seat belts in an older motorhome is not easy. A lot of older motorhomes will not have any seatbelts in the rear at all and many people will not feel comfortable travelling in the back without some sort of restraint.
The problem is old motorhomes were not designed to have a seat belt and do not have the structure to support the forces involved in a crash.
This blog is written from a UK perspective. Please check your local laws for what is and what is not legal. This is purely a guide and my own findings after a lot of research
It is possible to fit seatbelts in an older motorhome, but it is not as simple as you may think. First, there are some things that may be good to know for motorhome owners in the UK. There are a few grey areas and there are also moral obligations to consider. Let’s have a look at some questions that I had to ask to get to the fitting stage of our rear seatbelts.
Can You Fit Extra Seatbelts in a Motorhome?
The answer to this is yes.
It was perfectly legal for a manufacturer to produce a motorhome with no rear seat belts up to the year 2007. So if you are considering a pre-2007 motorhome don’t just expect there to be seatbelts. Many manufacturers were putting rear seatbelts into their motorhomes way before 2007 so if you are considering buying a pre-2007 motorhome check out the number of seatbelts.
Some motorhome manufacturers did not have actual seat belts but did put in the structure for putting a seatbelt in. There would be a point you can screw in the upper part of a three-point seat belt to. This is really useful and is usually situated on the outer wall of the motorhome. The ones I have seen usually have a plastic plug fitted ready for a seatbelt bolt.
Where this has not been done many motorhomes will have a lap belt fitted – not the best but better than nothing. Make sure you are happy with how they have been fitted.
Ours were positively dangerous. There was a lap belt fitted to a piece of angle iron at the bottom of the seat. This would probably be enough to stop you flying about in a crash but the belt and attachments were not the problem. The actual seat is only made of a thin ply so if you were in a crash there is a good chance that the forces would pull you down, through the seat. Not the best set up.
So as well as the belts being attached strongly the seats also have to be strong to take some incredible forces exerted during a crash.
Do You Have to Wear Seatbelts in a Motorhome?
Yes, you do. The front seats (driver and passenger) must have seatbelts and in the UK you must wear them. In the rear of the motorhome, things are a little bit hazier.
Do You Have to Wear Seatbelts in the Rear of a Motorhome?
Do you actually have to wear a seatbelt in the rear of a motorhome? In the UK you do have to wear a seatbelt in the back of a motorhome if there are seat belts fitted.
If there are no seatbelt then there is no legal requirement to wear a belt.
This is where it gets to be a bit of a grey area. If you have a passenger in the back who is not wearing a seatbelt the police could stop you and do you for endangering others in the vehicle. If you are in a crash at 60mph and there is someone or more than one in the motorhome who is not belted in they will probably take out one or both of the front passengers as they fly through the windscreen.
Just because something is not illegal does not mean that it’s ok to do it. You have to weigh up family and friends lives with the cost of getting belts fitted – how much is your family worth?
To be safe everyone in the motorhome should have some sort of seatbelt.
Different Types of Seat Belts
There are a few different types of passenger restraints available in motorhomes.
The three-point seat belt is the most common type of seatbelt in the UK and you will find them in every car since the 1960s. They have a lap belt portion and a belt going across your shoulder just as you have in your car. These are the best type of seat belt to have and are able to stop people flying about in a crash, reducing injury to the person wearing the belt and others in the motorhome.
The Lap Belt- this is fitted in a lot of motorhomes in the rear. You only require two strong points to fit them. They tend to be very easy to fit. The good thing about the lap belts is they stop people from flying about. The negative is that you can really injure yourself if you are in a crash with only a lap belt. Internal and spinal injuries are common when using a lap belt in a crash. Obviously the faster the crash the more chance of injury there will be.
Do Pets Need Seat Belts?
It is illegal in the UK to have an unrestrained animal (pet) in a vehicle. They have to be strapped in. You can get specific restraints for your pet to keep them safe, a harness is generally used. A pet jumping around in a motorhome or car is a distraction for the driver and if there is a crash there is a high possibility of the pet or being injured or injuring other passengers if it is not suitably restrained.
Worth considering if you want to take your best friend on holiday with you.
There are loads of restraints for pets to choose from and they are not expensive.
Belts on Side-Facing Seats
On a side facing seat – bench type there is only the option of using a lap belt. The three-point belt will not work with the side facing seats. As discussed above a lap belt is not great and only really stops the injury of other passengers. Although better than nothing, a lap belt on a side facing seat could do a lot of damage to the person using it.
Is it Legal to Add a Seatbelt to a Motorhome?
It is not illegal to add a seatbelt to a motorhome. The problem is getting that seatbelt strong enough to be able to take the forces exerted during a crash.
Seat belt webbing is strong enough to hold a couple of tonnes. The problem is not the actual seat belt but what you attach that seat belt on to. If you have any belts in the back ask yourself if the object the belt is fitted to can take a couple of tones force.
Dealing with these forces is why manufacturers have seatbelts built into the actual chassis of the vehicle. The seat belts are not an afterthought, they are designed into the structure of the vehicle and this allows them to take the forces exerted in a crash crash.
To retrofit a seat belt it is very difficult to get that strength. This is where we run into problems.
I have seen attempts to fit seat belts by just screwing into a plywood wall, for the shoulder fitting. This just gives the illusion of safety, the first sign of a crash that belt or the whole wall will come flying off along with you.
As well as getting a strong structure to connect to there are the actual seats to consider as well – can they take the forces of a crash when the passenger is strapped onto that seat? The only way to know this for sure is to be in a crash and if you are wrong it is too late.
That is why it’s better to be too strong than too weak but as usual, you must balance the decision with the overall weight.
Retrofitting Seat Belts in a Motorhome
We have looked at many different options for fitting belts into our motorhome. One of them is to have a structure built that will allow three-point belts to be fitted and hold the passengers easily in place. This seemed like a good idea but its very expensive and you still have the problem (in our motorhome at least) of weak seats.
The best method I have found so far for the fitting of a seatbelt so far is to buy a crash rated seat with the seat belt fitted into the seat.
So you buy a seat with the seatbelt already incorporated into the seat. All you have to do is bolt it down securely to the chassis.
What we are planning to do is get a metal plate welded and bolted between two beams of the chassis and bolt the seats into that plate. That should be ample to stop the seats being ripped off the floor during a crash and the seats themselves have been crash rated.
The reason the plate is required is to strengthen up the floor – it is made of good quality plywood but I would not rely on that during a crash. The steel bolted between two members of the chassis will hold them in position.
It may not be as perfect as factory fitted belts but its a huge improvement to what we have at the moment.
There is a company who specialises in these type of seats and they are used in vans and minibuses. They are called Scotseat and have a wide range of crash tested seats with belts built into the actual seat. They can also build you bespoke seats to your specification if you like. Needless to say, they are not cheap but they are probably the best option for getting a couple of forward-facing seats with belts.
We actually managed to get a couple of Scotseats from Gumtree. There are a lot of these seats in vans and people seem to be selling them all the time at a reasonable cost. Definitely worth a look if you are on a budget. The coverings don’t really go with the decor but that is easily fixed.
There is a downside. In our motorhome, the two front-facing sets in the rear are part of the dining area are part of a bed so once this conversion is completed a two berth bed will be lost. This isn’t so much of a problem for us as there are four of us in a 6 berth. But we will have no room for guests.
This is a main consideration for us but safety trump’s guests on this occasion.
Whatever you decide to do if you need seatbelts fitted in the rear of your motorhome and you do not have the built-in seatbelt points then the seats with belts fitted seems like the best option so far. If you have any better options I would love to hear about them.