A safety belt, often referred to as a seat belt, is a harness designed to secure occupants inside the vehicle, and you have to buckle up to use it. Without question, a safety belt is the most important in-cab safety device that will protect an occupant in the event of a sudden stop or crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that in 2001, safety belts saved over 12,000 American lives.1
Safety belts are not just for light-vehicle drivers and occupants, but must also be worn by Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) drivers. Though some drivers may have excuses for not buckling up,2 such as thinking the belt is uncomfortable, the data is clear that wearing your safety belt can save your life.3 The Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) reported that 23 percent of combination truck, single-vehicle crashes involved the driver not wearing a safety belt.4 A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) naturalistic study of truck driver safety belt use found that in baseline events (i.e., non-crash), 39.6 percent of drivers were unbelted. However, in incidents, that number jumped to 66.5 percent indicating that not wearing a safety belt may be indicative of other risky driving behaviors.5
Below are some tips on the benefits of wearing safety belts.
TIP #1: Always Wear Your Safety Belt
It is critical that when you are driving, either short distances or on long trips, you should always wear your safety belt. It is also critical that if you have a passenger, he/she should buckle up as well. In case of a sudden stop or crash, a safety belt will keep you secured to the seat, helping prevent injury or death that may occur from you being thrown from your seat into the steering wheel, dash, or windshield. From 2001 data, NHTSA reported that 60 percent of all passengers killed in traffic crashes were unrestrained.6
Did You Know? Wearing your safety belt is the law, and violations are subject to monetary fines? Section 392.16 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) Regulations indicates that a CMV which has a seat belt assembly installed at the driver's seat shall not be driven unless the driver has properly restrained himself/herself with the seat belt assembly.7
An example of a driver not wearing his safety belt is shown in the video clip below. This video clip is from DriveCam.8 Training exercise questions follow the video clip.
VIDEO DESCRIPTION: The driver, who is not wearing his safety belt, is driving on a divided highway. He is drowsy and loses control of this vehicle. He crashes into the guard rail on the right shoulder and then spins out of control back across the highway. He rolls and crashes against the median guard rail. During this sequence, the driver, because he is not wearing his safety belt, is tossed around the cab and ends up in the back seat, smashing his head on the rear-side window.
TRAINING EXERCISE: After viewing the video, try to answer the following questions:
- What poor driving habits with regard to steering control did you notice?
- What does the driver do just before losing control of the vehicle?
- Are you surprised at how the unbelted driver was tossed around in the cab?
- Based on the integrity of the seats and cab at the end of the clip, do you think a safety belt would have prevented injury for this driver?
TIP #2: Safety Belts Prevent Ejection from a Vehicle in a Crash
Many people mistakenly believe it's better to be thrown clear of the wreckage in the event of a crash, but this could not be further from the truth. The fact is an occupant is four times as likely to be fatally injured when thrown from the vehicle. In 2006, 217 truck occupants and drivers died when they were ejected from their cabs during a crash.3
Did You Know? When you are not wearing a safety belt, your chances of being killed are almost 25 times higher if you are thrown from a vehicle in a crash.9 Safety belts can keep you from being thrown through the windshield, from being dragged and scraped along the ground, or from being crushed by your own truck or another vehicle.
Did You Know? Danny Cloud, a 51-year-old McAlester man, was killed on January 22, 2008, when his pickup collided with a tractor-trailer rig in Hughes County, OK. Cloud's pickup went left of center, hit the semi and became lodged under it. Cloud was pinned for two hours and was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. The semi was driven by 59-year-old Anthony Wayne Green of McAlester who was also pinned for 1.5 hours. He was taken to McAlester Regional Hospital with arm and back injuries. Neither Green nor Cloud wore a safety belt nor had any passengers. 10
Did You Know? Michael Berggren, a 55-year old truck driver, was fatally wounded in a crash while not wearing a safety belt. Involved in a single-vehicle rollover on December 26, 2006, Berggren was ejected from the truck cab, which resulted in the truck rolling over him and crushing his chest. Berggren's employer and spouse indicated that he habitually wore his safety belt.11 This tragic story highlights that drivers must buckle up each and every time, with no exceptions.
TIP #3: Even the Best Drivers Need to Wear Safety Belts at All Times
While good drivers do not usually cause accidents, it is possible that during your driving career you will be involved in a crash caused by a bad driver, bad weather, mechanical failure, or tire blowout. Wearing a safety belt prevents injuries and fatalities by preventing ejection and by protecting your head and spinal cord.3
Did you know? On March 17th, 2008, Joseph Karichu of Colony, Texas, was involved in a crash after his truck cab fell nearly 40 feet. Karichu was traveling north on I-380 near Cedar Rapids when he swerved to avoid a car, hit the guardrail, and went up and over the railing, falling 40 feet below. Police noted that because he was wearing his lap and shoulder safety belt, Karichu walked away from the crash.12