Weak Seat Belt Enforcement Leads To More Deaths

In 2003, 43,220 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes on the nation’s highways. Of those killed, 58 percent were not wearing seat belts according to the 2003 preliminary report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

How many lives could have been saved if more people wore seat belts? No one knows for sure, but it is a known fact that seat belts save lives! Yet we have an astonishing low usage rate in the United States.

All 50 states have some form of mandatory seat belt laws. Some state laws are much stronger than others and the enforcement practices allowed by the various state laws vary significantly. There is evidence that weak seat belt laws result in lower seat belt usage.

Chuck Hurley of the Transportation Safety Group of the National Safety Council says, “States that have weak seat belt laws have sharply lower seat belt use rates and unfortunately sharply higher fatalities in car crashes.” The same case can most likely be made in industry regarding seat belt usage. Companies that have weak seat belt policies and poor enforcement most likely experience a lower use rate than companies that have a strong policy and sound enforcement.

  • Only 48 percent of all commercial vehicle drivers wear seat belts.
  • Only 79 percent of passenger vehicle drivers wear seat belts.
  • 42,815 people were killed in crashes in 2002.
  • 2.9 million people were injured in crashes in 2002.
  • Car accidents are the number one killer of people ages 1 to 37.
  • Highway crashes cost society $230.6 billion a year, about $820 per person.

Testimonies from Experts
According to Robert L. Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA, “Wearing your seat belt not only saves your life, but also protects loved ones who are riding in the same vehicle. Research shows buckled passengers are often injured or killed when struck by other passengers who had not fastened their seat belt.”

During his remarks at the World Health Day 2004 event designed to focus attention on the problem, Darbelnet noted that the more than 42,000 deaths due to motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. have become widely accepted as inevitable. “In round numbers, this loss of life is the equivalent of the Titanic going down every two weeks…year after year. That would not be accepted nor should our road fatalities be accepted either.”

In December 2003, Secretary Mineta announced a new national public-private partnership to combat low seat belt use among the nation’s commercial motor vehicle drivers. In an event in Atlanta, he said, “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, no, needs you, to buckle up.”

The Department of Transportation’s statistics indicate that accidents are generally related to irresponsible driving behavior. They go on to say that seat belt use is only at about 68 percent nationally, despite it being a highly cost-effective means to prevent fatalities and serious injuries.

What You Can Do
You should focus on educating your employees about the critical importance of responsible driving behavior and wearing a seat belt both as a driver and a passenger.

One of the most important things you can do to help ensure highway safety for your employees is to have a written mandatory seat belt policy, communicate it clearly to all employees, and consistently enforce it.

To be successful, you must implement a measuring system so each employee who drives a vehicle, car or truck can be measured and held accountable to ensure he/she is wearing a seat belt and that every person in the vehicle is properly buckled up. Measurement strategies can include informal daily observations and periodic formal evaluations.

There must be consequences for failure to comply. Otherwise, accountability is not believable and has no credibility, and you will have something less than a totally effective seat belt program.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Meet the Author
GAWDA OSHA & EPA Consultant Thomas W. Eynon is senior associate at B&R Compliance Associates LLC, based in Merritt, North Carolina. Members can reach him at 252-745-7391 and at tom.eynon@brcompliance.com.