The statistics from the Department of Transportation are mind-boggling: Fewer than half – just 48 percent of truck drivers – buckle up before their trips. That compares with 80 percent of passenger vehicle drivers.
On the stupidity scale, that ranks right up there with riding a motorcycle without a helmet. It's macho all right, and you're showing the world you make your own decisions.
But these are life-and-death decisions.
Of 620 truck drivers who died in their cabs in 2003, DOT says half were not wearing seat belts. Even without examining each case, the odds are that a lot of those drivers perished from being slammed around in their cabs.
Another 2003 statistic: An additional 135 drivers who were not wearing seat belts died after being ejected from their cabs. According to statistics, 80 percent of them might still be alive if they'd had their belts fastened.
Even with all this information, one study showed that 14 percent of drivers are afraid a safety belt would trap them in the cab. That still leaves a whole bunch of them who either think they're too macho for belts – or have a death wish.
Truckers are required by federal law to wear seat belts, and 20 states have their own primary safety belt laws, where an officer who sees an unbelted driver can stop the truck and issue a citation. According to the American Trucking Associations, seat belt usage in those states runs about 10 percent better than in other states. ATA President/CEO Bill Graves just called on governors whose states don't have such laws to push for them.
That would help. But improving belt use by 10 percent in those states isn't enough. And law enforcement alone can't get it done. For one thing, it's hard for a cop to tell whether a passing driver is hooked up.
The DOT's Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Belt Partnership with carriers, industry organizations, law enforcement and government is working to convince drivers to buckle up, through educational programs.
They show that safety belts distribute crash forces to the strongest parts of the human body to protect the head and spinal cord. They show that being secured in the cab increases one's chances of staying conscious, and living through a crash.
The solution lies in those messages, and they need to be delivered direct to your drivers. When the Transportation Research Board recently surveyed fleet managers, some 80 percent said their companies have written policies requiring drivers to wear safety belts. That's impressive. But are the policies working?
Apparently not very well. In the same study, when drivers were asked if they knew of such policies in their fleets, fully half said they did not. And nearly half said their companies had no penalty for drivers failing to use safety belts.
Though the government's 2004 seat belt usage numbers aren't out yet, a study in Missouri indicates truckers' use may have climbed substantially, to nearly 60 percent.
That's still pitiful. Our failure to educate these people is killing them.
E-mail Doug Condra at [email protected], or write PO Box W. Newport Beach, Calif. 92656.