Running Lights Blog

Accentuate the obvious: Crashes bad for truck drivers, seat belts good

The researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have gathered the data and done the math, so it’s official: Crashes are the leading cause of on-the-job death for truck drivers in the U.S. How much did that study cost?

But wait, there’s a key observation: Many truck drivers do not use a seat belt on every trip.

The numbers: Overall, 317,000 motor vehicle crashes involving large trucks were reported to police in 2012, according to the latest Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The estimated cost of truck and bus crashes to the United States economy was $99 billion that same year.

About 2.6 million workers in the US drive trucks that weigh over 10,000 pounds. After dropping to 35-year lows in 2009, the number of crash fatalities of truck drivers or their passengers increased between 2009 and 2012.

Approximately 700 drivers of large trucks or their passengers died in crashes in 2012, and an estimated 26,000 were injured. About 65 percent of on-the-job deaths of truck drivers in 2012 were the result of a motor vehicle crash. More than a third of the drivers who died were not wearing a seat belt.

"We know that using a seat belt is the single most effective intervention to prevent injury or death in a motor vehicle crash. 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 percent of these deaths " said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias, Ph.D. “Employers and government agencies at all levels can help improve truck driver safety and increase seat belt use among truck drivers by having strong company safety programs and enforcing state and federal laws."

This Vital Signs report includes data from the National Survey of US Long-Haul Truck Driver Health and Injury, conducted by CDC at 32 truck stops along interstate highways across the United States in 2010. Key findings from the survey include:
 

  • An estimated 14 percent 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.


And the study doesn’t mention CSA. For better worse, CSA violations add up—and those points will show up of driver PSP reports of driver inspections and violations.

What can be done to reduce the risk of motor vehicle crashes, injuries, and deaths among truck drivers?

It’s not the CDC is unsympathetic. Among the recommendations: Engineering and design changes that provide increased comfort and range of motion and allow adjustments for diverse body types might increase use of seat belts by truck drivers.

But, seriously: Is that seat belt really more uncomfortable than a stay in the trauma center?

Or maybe you just hope not to feel a thing?

For more information on motor vehicle safety at work, including trucker safety, please visit the NIOSH Motor Vehicle Safety page. Released in conjunction with this month’s Vital Signs is the NIOSH Long-Haul Truck Drivers page.

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