The federal government has spent billions of dollars over the past decade preaching the importance of a common sense task, required by law, for all drivers, in every type of vehicle, in all 50 states. All this money has been spent to reinforce the idea drivers should buckle their seat belts before traveling on the roadway. Local, state and federal government have spent countless hours enforcing occupant protection enforcement and education. One would think this task would happen naturally as a method of self-preservation, yet there are many who refuse to comply with this simple, statutory requirement, including truck drivers.
Over the years, much progress has been made encouraging motorists to comply with seat belt laws. The daytime seat belt usage rate has risen from 70.7% in 2000 to 90.1% in 2016, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) resources. These numbers represent a significant increase in compliance over a 16-year period.
The numbers seem encouraging on face value, but the same statistics scream 1 out of 10 people traveling in vehicles are not securing their seat belts. These statistics only represent those traveling in passenger vehicles.
When one begins to look at the compliance rate of the trucking demographic likely reading this blog, the rate quickly drops from 90.1% to 84.9%. In other terms, there is a 5% drop off in seat belt compliance from passenger vehicles to commercial vehicles traveling on US roadways. What this statistic says is professionals who operate heavy vehicles are significantly less likely to buckle up to save their lives and those in smaller, more maneuverable vehicles.
As further proof of the lack of compliance, driver safety belt violations were the fifth most common violation cited by officers conducting federal safety regulation inspections in 2016. Almost 60,000 violations were documented by officers. While this number itself is extremely high, it still doesn’t even include those cited by other law enforcement officers not conducting federal inspections.
Those in law enforcement have heard every excuse in the book from violators of safety belt laws. Some of those excuses are more reasonable than others, but almost none are a statutory exemption to safety belt requirements.
Drivers of commercial vehicles offer some of the more compelling arguments law enforcement will hear. Many have argued the belt is uncomfortable to wear for long periods while traveling over bumpy roads. Others have contended since their vehicle is bigger, they are less likely to be injured in a crash.
The fact remains that even commercial vehicles are bigger than others on the road, unrestrained drivers can still be seriously injured in a crash. Further, commercial vehicles are more likely to be involved in a roll-over situation than a passenger vehicle. In these cases, the size of the vehicle is not going to protect the driver from being injured, as the larger passenger compartment and its contents will serve as a potential centrifuge of injury or death.
If the risk of injury or death isn’t enough to encourage commercial vehicle operators to buckle up, perhaps the possibility of law enforcement intervention will serve as a deterrent. While it has been reported that only about 2% of law enforcement officers are likely to stop commercial vehicles, the chance of being stopped by the police increases exponentially when one chooses to disobey a law to which every patrol officer.
Many officers are not trained in the finer aspects of commercial vehicle enforcement, which many commercial vehicle operators rightfully worry about. Violations of size, weight, CDL or federal regulations are not often possessed in the average patrol officer’s repertoire. Seat belt violations, however, are something that every officer knows is illegal. Why draw attention police attention over such a futile disregard of the law?
Law enforcement nationwide has gone “all in” on the campaign to encourage motorists to “Click it or Ticket” and they will not back down from the crusade until there are zero fatalities. It takes everyone working together to make the roadways a safer place as the holidays approach. Secure safety belts and drive safely on the roads.
From all of us at the ITEA, have a happy and safe holiday season and remember to buckle up!