Trucks at Work

CDC troubled by lack of seat belt use in trucking

In its latest Vital Signs report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted a host of scary statistics when it comes to the death and injury rates due to large truck crashes in the U.S.

Yet one of the agency’s biggest concerns centers on the lack of seat-belt use by truck drivers – and that’s leading to a lot of unnecessary fatalities in the CDC’s estimation.

"We know that using a seat belt is the single most effective intervention to prevent injury or death in a motor vehicle crash,” noted CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias in the agency’s report.

“However, in 2012 more than 1 in 3 truck drivers who died in crashes were not buckled up, a simple step which could have prevented up to 40% of these deaths,” she emphasized.

According to the agency’s data, about 65% of on-the-job deaths of truck drivers in 2012 were the result of a motor vehicle crash – and more  than a third of the drivers who died were not wearing a seat belt.

Arias added that the U.S. “depends on truck drivers to deliver goods and services safely and efficiently,” and frankly it’s nice to see that kind of prominent statement by a federal government official.

Yet the CDC noted that crashes involving large trucks continue to take a toll on truck drivers, their passengers, other road users, businesses, and the community.

Overall, 317,000 motor vehicle crashes involving large trucks were reported to police in 2012, according to the agency’s report, with the estimated cost of truck and bus crashes on the U.S. economy totaling $99 billion.

The CDC estimates that about 2.6 million workers in the U.S. drive trucks that weigh over 10,000 pounds but that after dropping to 35-year lows in 2009, the number of crash fatalities of truck drivers or their passengers increased between 2009 and 2012.

The agency said approximately 700 drivers of large trucks or their passengers died in crashes in 2012, with another 26,000 or so injured.  

Other findings from CDC’s latest report include: 

  • An estimated 14% of long-haul truck drivers reported not using a seat belt on every trip.
  • Over one-third of long-haul truck drivers had been involved in one or more serious crashes during their driving careers.
  • Long-haul truck drivers who reported not wearing seat belts also tended to engage in other unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding and committing moving violations. They were also more likely to work for an employer that did not have a written workplace safety program.
  • Long-haul truck drivers who lived in a state with a primary seat belt law – the law that allows police to stop motorists solely for being unbelted – were more likely to report often using a seat belt.

Stephanie Pratt, coordinator of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) center for motor vehicle safety, stressed in the report that using a seat belt remains the most effective way to prevent injury or death in the event of a crash.

“[But] the smartest strategy for overall safety is to prevent truck crashes from happening in the first place,” she added. “Employers can help prevent crashes and injuries through comprehensive driver safety programs that address other known risk factors such as drowsy and distracted driving.” 

The first place to start, though, seems quite simple: when operating a motor vehicle – be it a truck or car – wear your seat belt.

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