New Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data that shows 78 percent of commercial truck and bus drivers wore safety belts while operating behind the wheel in 2010, compared to 74 percent in 2009.

According to FMCSA's Safety Belt Usage by Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Survey, the number of commercial drivers that are wearing safety belts has increased by 14 percent since 2007. The 2010 survey observed 26,830 commercial drivers operating medium- to heavy-duty trucks and buses at 998 roadside sites nationwide. The survey found that safety belt use for commercial drivers and their occupants was higher, 80 percent, in states where law enforcement may stop drivers for not wearing a safety belt, versus 72 percent in states with weaker secondary enforcement belt use laws.

A regional breakdown showed that safety belt use rates for commercial drivers and their occupants were highest in the West, at 82 percent, compared with 79 percent in the South, 73 percent in the Midwest and 69 percent in the Northeast.

The new survey findings were released as FMCSA unveiled the two grand prize winners of this year's 'Be Ready. Be Buckled.', an art contest that encourages students nationwide to create posters urging commercial drivers to use their safety belts. The winners are Darby Kim, a second grader from Colin L. Powell Elementary School in Centreville, Va., and Lucia Choi, a fourth grader from James Madison Intermediate School in Edison, N.J. The contest is sponsored by the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Belt Partnership, which includes FMCSA and over 20 other government agencies and organizations.

Officials from the American Trucking Associations praised industry and law enforcement groups, as well as the federal government, for their efforts to improve seat belt usage among commercial truck drivers.

"Today's news is yet another reflection of the trucking industry's commitment to safety," ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said. "However, while these numbers are encouraging we acknowledge that there is still much more to do." Graves noted that crash fatality rate for truck drivers has plummeted in recent years.

ATA has been a long-time advocate of safety belt use and is a member of DOT's Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Belt Partnership. Recently, ATA made safety belt initiatives a component of its progressive safety agenda. The agenda also calls for other strategies to induce seat belt use such as requiring that belts be of a sharply contrasting color, like bright orange, to allow for easier enforcement, admissibility in court of evidence that a driver failed to wear his/her seat belt, and denial of workers compensation claims for drivers who don't wear seat belts.

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