Buckle thy assets

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It’s amazing to me how many drivers – even those with the most stellar safe driving records – still don’t fasten their seatbelts. I see them driving down the highway and wonder if their companies are aware they aren’t buckled up.

There’s always been a lot of resistance from truckers toward fastening seatbelts, but considers these statistics: In 2005, 696 drivers of large trucks died in truck crashes, and 303 of them were not wearing seatbelts. Of the 176 truckers who were killed after being ejected from their trucks, nearly 77 percent were not wearing seatbelts. Fifty-one percent of truck-occupant fatalities involve a rollover, and in the event of a rollover, you are 80 percent less likely to die if you are wearing a seatbelt.

The three seconds it takes to pull on a seatbelt could save your driver’s life. But getting them to comply isn’t easy; according to a 2006 commercial motor vehicle driver safety belt usage study, only 59 percent of drivers wear their safety belts. Campaigns like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “Be ready. Be Buckled” effort help raise critical awareness about seatbelt usage.

Wayne Miller, director of safety and compliance for Williams NationaLease LTD in Normal, Ill., says they implemented a companywide “Click It or Ticket” seatbelt program 18 months ago – and the results have been outstanding. The program is in effect for the entire company, not just their 250 drivers. The first offense for not wearing a seatbelt is a company “ticket” and strong warning. The second offense is loss of bonus, and if a driver is caught by a safety supervisor with a third offense, they are terminated. If it sounds like tough love, it is.

“At first, our drivers were resistant to the idea that we were actually going to check up on their seatbelt usage,” Miller says. “But once they bought into the benefits of buckling up, and the repercussions of not doing so, they were on board.” There are more teeth in Miller’s program than there is from law enforcement – but that’s fine with him. “We’ve improved our seatbelt compliance to a whopping 99.89 percent, up from about 75 percent before the program,” Miller says.

Williams NationaLease LTD – this year’s small fleet winner of the American Trucking Associations’ President’s Trophy, which honors a carrier’s safety record – also has installed larger-size seatbelts for overweight drivers. “We’re serious about safety, and this is about the life and well-being of our drivers,” Miller says.

This holiday season, consider reminding drivers to buckle up. The life they save might be their own.