Even though seat belt use has grown enormously among truckers over the last two decades, experts underscore the cost savings in liability that further increasing seat belt use could generate for the industry.
“In 1985, seat belt use among truckers was below 10%. Today, it’s just over 48%. That’s a big jump,” said Steven Eickenroht, director of sales for safety system maker IMMI. “But the issue is that the seat belt remains the primary safety mechanism in the truck to protect the driver. You have to use it in order for any other safety system, such as an airbag, to work properly."
In an effort to reduce truck driver fatalities, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is tightening its focus on seat belt use among commercial vehicle operators as part of an overall Department of Transportation (DOT) campaign launched late in 2003.
“Only 48% of (truck) drivers wear seat belts, as opposed to 79% of all passenger car drivers,” said Duane Baker, an FMCSA safety investigator, at the recent Waste Expo convention in Dallas. “One out of every five truck drivers is ejected from their vehicle in a crash—and the only reason they can be ejected is if they’re not wearing their seat belt.”
Eickenroht said one of the key factors influencing many fleets is how using seat belts can reduce injury rates among drivers, a huge issue in terms of reducing worker compensation.
“In 2003, some 710 truck drivers were killed in accidents, but over 27,000 drivers were injured,” he said. “So the paradigm is shifting now to injury reduction as well as saving lives. We’re now seeing stronger fleet and OEM interest in adding more comfortable seat belts and extra safety systems to trucks.”
For example, several years ago the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Landover MD released a study that found truck accidents alone cost the industry roughly $24 billion a year: $8.7 billion in productivity losses, $2.5 billion in resources costs, and quality of life losses valued at $13.1 billion.
IMMI dug deeper into Pacific’s research and calculated that the cost to a fleet averages about $183,000 per injury and $2.7 million per fatality. Those costs include medical expenses, emergency services, lost driver productivity, and quality-of-life losses.