April 1, 2004

3 Min Read
Strapped In

Kathleen M. White Contributing Editor Portland, Ore.

WASTE HAULERS transport delicate cargo. While no one may question whether heaps of trash will survive the haul, it is another story when it comes to the safety of the people driving commercial vehicles to and from landfills.

Drivers of single-trailer refuse trucks claim the lowest seat belt use rate among commercial vehicle drivers, according to a recent study commissioned by the Washington, D.C.-based Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The study, which has yielded the first statistics for safety belt use among truck drivers, has prompted a national public-private partnership to combat low safety belt use among U.S. commercial vehicle operators.

Only 48 percent of all commercial vehicle drivers wear safety belts, according to “Safety Belt Usage by Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers,” which was prepared by the Great Falls, Va.- based Center for Applied Research Inc. In contrast, 79 percent of drivers of all passenger vehicles wear belts, according to a 2003 U.S. Department of Transportation survey.

In particular, drivers of Class 8, single-trailer garbage trucks wear their safety belts 26 percent of the time, the report states. Refuse vehicle operators, who the study grouped with concrete truck drivers and other miscellaneous commercial vehicle operators, achieved a combined 39 percent safety belt use rate.

“The study tried to weigh the whole commercial motor vehicle industry,” says Dave Longo, FMCSA spokesman. “This is the first [of] what we believe will be continuing research to regulate commercial motor vehicle safety belt use and change drivers' behavior.”

According to Longo, although national truck-related fatalities have decreased in the past five years, not wearing safety belts continues to be a common reason for deaths among commercial drivers.

Of approximately 5,000 truck-related fatalities annually, less than 20 percent of those killed are truck occupants. Within that 20 percent, however, deaths often are the result of preventable situations, according to the study. In single-vehicle crashes where the driver runs off the road and rolls over or hits a large stationary object, many drivers die, in part, because of their failure to wear a safety belt. Of the 500 truck drivers killed annually, approximately 400 drivers were not wearing their safety belts, and 200 were ejected and died.

These statistics have helped to spawn the recently launched Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Belt Partnership, which aims to reduce truck-related deaths to 1.65 fatalities per 100 million truck vehicle miles traveled by 2008. FMCSA plans to team with trucking companies, drivers and organizations such as the Washington, D.C.-based Motor Freight Carrier Association and the Alexandria, Va.-based American Trucking Association to spread the buckle-up message through educational pamphlets, signs at truck stops and roadside inspection facilities, and other outreach efforts.

The study, which took place in the summer 2002, used 117 observation sites in 12 states (Arkansas, California, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington). Most states had 10 sampling sites; the 12 states were randomly selected with the probability of selection proportional to annual truck vehicle miles traveled.

“One of our first steps will be to conduct more driver research,” Longo says. “We're going to determine the most effective ways to reach the audience, where to disseminate the messages and where to conduct them,” he adds. The FMCSA just held the first of what will be quarterly meetings with the public-private entities in the new partnership to discuss program's logistics.

“The perception is out there among commercial vehicle operators that they don't need to buckle up because the size of their rigs will [protect them],” Longo says.

“However, the fact that many commercial vehicle operators die in accidents because they aren't wearing their seat belts is pretty sobering,” Longo adds. “We want to help change the statistics.”






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