The Unbuckled Trucker Dilemma

April 12, 2013

Buckling up is proven to be one of the easiest and most effective ways to stay safe while navigating the highways. Wearing a seat belt can reduce serious crash-related injuries and death by approximately 50%. But this simple routine is one many truck drivers still have yet to embrace.

Men driving trucks big rigs and pickups are the biggest offenders when it comes to breaking passenger restraint laws, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). A Department of Transportation study in 2005 showed only 54% of truck drivers used safety restraints while driving, compared to 82% of four-wheelers. The statistics tell the tale of what can happen to truckers who don't wear seat belts:

  • In 2006, 805 drivers and occupants of large trucks died in truck crashes and 393 of these were not wearing safety belts. Of the 217 drivers and occupants who were killed and ejected from their vehicles, approximately 81% were not wearing safety belts.
  • 52% of truck-occupant-fatalities in large trucks involve a rollover. Rollover in a large truck increases the likelihood of fatality by 30 times. In a rollover, a truck driver is 80% less likely to die when wearing a safety belt.

Truckers who don't belt up often have dramatic reasons why they refuse to obey the law. According to the "Survey of Seat Belt Usage Among Tractor Trailer Drivers" conducted by the Alabama Department of Public Safety and the Research Laboratory for Government Services at Auburn University a notable percentage of drivers who sometimes or never wear their seat belts worry that they will not be able to unbuckle their seat belts after a crash (40.3%) or that the belt will place them in danger if the cabin is crushed (38.4%). Several respondents specifically stated that they are afraid of being trapped in a burning truck, and some mention that they have known or witnessed drivers being killed because they were trapped. Following sample of verbatim comments about truckers' seat belt concerns:

  • "About 10 years ago a driver had an accident driving a gas truck turn over. He was able to call 911 but couldn't get out of seat belt, so while on the phone with operator the truck exploded."
  • "As an adult I should not be made to wear a seat belt if I choose not to the government should not be able to dictate what I should do about a seat belt. That is not a democracy; it is dictatorship."
  • "I feel it should be optional, they always tell you about lives saved by seat belts, but never tell you how many die because of them. It's a 50/50 situation!"
  • "I have seen several instances where the driver died because he couldn't get out of the vehicle. I would rather get a ticket than put my life in danger."
  • "I watched a driver burn up in a truck screaming to the police officer to shoot him."
  • "People do die while wearing their seat belt. I've seen lots of it. If I'm going to die hopefully it will be with my head still on my shoulders!"
  • "The seat belts are not made for big people. They are most uncomfortable and feel like they are cutting into your neck and stomach."
  • "It is hard to maneuver the rig; if backing, shifting, and retrieving something from the dash."

The FMCSA is attempting to dispel some of those myths surrounding seat belt use. They counter the following nine myths truckers use as excuses to avoid using seat belts with facts to encourage truckers to buckle up:

Myth: Safety belts are uncomfortable and restrict movement. Fact: Most drivers find that once they correctly adjust the seat, lap and shoulder belt, discomfort and restrictive movement can be alleviated.

Myth: Wearing a safety belt is a personal decision that doesn't affect anyone else. Fact: Not wearing a safety belt can certainly affect your family and loved ones. It can also affect other motorists since wearing a safety belt can help you avoid losing control of your truck in a crash.

Myth: Safety belts prevent your escape from a burning or submerged vehicle. Fact: Safety belts can keep you from being knocked unconscious, improving your chances of escape. Fire or submersion occurs in less than 5% of fatal large truck crashes.

Myth: It's better to be thrown clear of the wreckage in the event of a crash. Fact: An occupant of a vehicle is four times as likely to be fatally injured when thrown from the vehicle.

Myth: It takes too much time to fasten your safety belt 20 times a day. Fact: Buckling up takes about three seconds. Even buckling up 20 times a day requires only one minute.

Myth: Good truck drivers don't need to wear safety belts. Fact: Good drivers usually don't cause collisions, but it's possible that during your career you will be involved in a crash caused by a bad driver, bad weather, mechanical failure, or tire blowout. Wearing a safety belt prevents injuries and fatalities by preventing ejection, and by protecting your head and spinal cord.

Myth: A large truck will protect you. Safety belts are unnecessary. Fact: In 2006, 393 truckers who were not wearing safety belts died in accidents and 81% of drivers and occupants who were killed when ejected from their vehicles were not wearing safety belts.

Myth: Safety belts aren't necessary for low-speed driving. Fact: In a frontal collision occurring at 30 mph, an unbelted person continues to move forward at 30 mph causing him/her to hit the windshield at about 30 mph. This is the same velocity a person falling from the top of a three-story building would experience upon impact with the ground.

Myth: A lap belt offers sufficient protection. Fact: The lap and shoulder belt design has been proven to hold a driver securely behind the wheel in the event of a crash, greatly increasing the driver's ability to maintain control of the vehicle and minimizing the chance for serious injury or death. To remedy the problem of truckers not buckling up, many states are increasing enforcement efforts and are cracking down on commercial drivers who refuse to heed seat belt laws. "Click it or Ticket" campaigns are regular safety sweeps in many states where law enforcement focuses on pulling over drivers and citing them for not buckling up. And the Tennessee Highway Patrol recently started using a big rig for patrols to give them a higher vantage point to spot truckers not using seat belts. For those who still choose to drive sans seat belts, FMCSA reminds you: "It's the law; federal regulations require commercial vehicle drivers to buckle up." And with increased enforcement of seat belt laws, you're much more likely to be cited for not buckling up than before. But worse than "Click it or Ticket?" "Click it or Die." To learn more about safety belts, visit www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safetybelt.

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