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Status Report, Vol. 39, No. 2 | February 7, 2004 Subscribe

Safety belt education, not enforcement, is planned for truck drivers

One of every two commercial truck drivers isn't using a safety belt, according to a survey conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). A consequence is that about one-third of the truckers killed in 2002 were ejected from their vehicles.

The researchers observed belt use by truck drivers in 2002 at locations that included truck stops and freeway exit ramps in the 12 states with the highest amounts of truck travel. Among the 3,909 truckers who were observed, safety belt use varied by type of truck. Dump truck drivers used their belts an average of 26 percent of the time, the lowest rate observed. The highest belt use rate (67 percent) was observed among drivers of trucks hauling hazardous materials. Drivers for local or independently owned motor carriers had lower use rates than truckers driving for national or major regional carriers.

These belt use rates compare with a national average of 75 percent in 2002 among drivers of passenger cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs (see "Washington state sets example for belt use," Jan. 11, 2003).

As a result of FMCSA's findings, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced an extensive research and educational campaign to encourage truckers to buckle up. "If you are one of the more than five and a half million truck drivers who choose not to wear your safety belt, I have a message for you. Uncle Sam wants you to, no, needs you to buckle up," Mineta said at a press event in Atlanta late last year. In addition, FMCSA signed a pledge along with commercial trucking associations, a truck driver association, and an organization that represents roadside inspectors to "work together to promote [commercial motor vehicle] driver safety belt education."

Conspicuously absent from both FMCSA's pledge and Mineta's announcement of new educational initiatives is any mention of stepped-up enforcement of existing federal requirements for belt use by commercial drivers who cross state lines. State officials are responsible for enforcing these requirements during roadside safety inspections. But FMCSA's estimates of citations issued at roadside inspections during 2002 indicate that the inspectors rarely cite truckers for not using belts.

"It's a serious omission for the Transportation Department to shortchange enforcement," Anne McCartt, senior research analyst at the Institute, points out. "An abundance of research going back years and years indicates the ineffectiveness of education by itself in getting people to buckle up. If roadside inspectors, together with motor carriers, enforced the federal belt regulation more consistently, the percentage of commercial drivers using belts would be expected to rise."

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