ATA asks states for primary safety belt laws to improve driver safety

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The head of the nation’s largest trucking group has asked the governors of 25 states to push for adoption of primary safety belt laws in their respective states. Such regulations, in force in the remaining states, would allow police officers to stop and issue traffic citations to motorists failing to wear their safety belt while operating a vehicle.

Speaking Monday, Nov. 14 at the 2005 International Truck and Bus Safety and Security Symposium in Alexandria, Va., Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, said states with primary laws have safety belt usage rates about 10 percentage points better than states with secondary enforcement laws. Prompting ATA’s new universal primary safety belt policy is a recent U.S. Department of Transportation survey citing truck drivers with just a 48 percent safety belt usage rate, the lowest among highway users.

“We are very concerned that the safety belt usage rate of truck drivers falls well short of the nationwide average among passenger vehicle drivers,” Graves told the governors. “I’m writing to ask your assistance to help bring about positive change. America’s motor carriers and their professional truck drivers are committed to operating safely and saving lives on our highways, but we obviously have some work to do within our own industry. As we partner with the USDOT Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Belt Partnership, we still need strong visible enforcement and education programs out on our highways to promote and enforce safety belt usage.”

Graves said ATA also has asked U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta to allow the states to increase the amount of federal truck safety funds spent on non-truck traffic enforcement. In a letter to Mineta, he said “recent research and analysis has found that in 77 percent of fatal crashes and 68 percent of non-fatal crashes involving a truck, the first harmful event was the collision between another vehicle in transport and the truck. Further research into these serious car-truck crashes has clearly indicated that the unintentional but unsafe actions of the passenger vehicle driver either causes or plays a significant contributing role in about 75 percent of the crashes.”

Graves said the states’ increased focus of Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program funds on traffic violations and unsafe operating behaviors of passenger vehicle drivers in and around trucks will reduce truck-involved crashes. “Additionally”, he continued, “greater focus on this part of the problem will serve to promote public awareness of safe driving habits around large trucks.”

“This is in no way an attempt to lay all highway safety problems on other drivers,” said Graves. “The current system of roadside truck inspections will continue, as will our industry’s daily efforts to keep highways safe by assuring that we have the safest professional drivers behind the wheels of the best equipment on the road. We’re not interested in casting blame — we’re more interested in sharing the road safely. Lifting this spending limitation, and allowing the states and FMCSA to determine how much of the MCSAP enforcement resources should be directed at this significant part of the truck-involved crash problem, will save many lives and prevent countless serious injuries.”

The primary safety belt request and support for increased traffic violation enforcement funding were highlights of the ATA trucking industry safety package presented at the truck and bus safety symposium. Other proactive truck safety initiatives put forth included:

  • The American Transportation Research Institute’s crash predictor study that evaluates and links past driver traffic violations with their likelihood of being involved in a crash, providing trucking companies safety-related information on their current and prospective drivers. The ATRI study also shows what education programs are best to address potential or current driver behavior problems.
  • ATA’s tacit support of a federal regulation requiring the use of electronic onboard recorders for documenting compliance with hours-of-service rules, as long as EOBR use demonstrably improves safety performance and compliance, along with other conditions.
  • An ATRI report on highway work zone designs and their appropriateness for accommodating large trucks, including lane and pavement width and median crossovers. The report calls for a uniform work zone crash reporting system to better understand the overrepresentation of large trucks in work zone crashes in order to develop measures for reducing their frequency and severity.
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