CDC exclusive focus on seat belts neglects full scope of truck driver safety concerns

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 3/4/2015

A recent claim by the Centers for Disease Control stating that 40 percent of the truck drivers or passengers who died in 2012 could have been saved by seat belts misses the bigger problem of a lack of crashworthiness standards for big trucks, according to OOIDA.

The CDC March issue of “Vital Signs” online included a section on truck driver safety. It focused on seat belt usage in large trucks.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association not only takes issue with the claims the agency makes, but points out its focus solely on seat belts shows a lack of understanding in the safety concerns drivers face.

The CDC claims about 700 truck drivers or their passengers died in crashes in 2012. The agency also claims that 40 percent of the unbelted drivers could have been saved had they buckled up.

“While I wouldn’t contest that seat belts improve safety, the largely singular focus on them by CDC makes me skeptical about their knowledge of truckers. We find nothing to support CDC’s claims that 40 percent of truck drivers who were killed in 2012 would have been saved by buckling up,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

Rather than focus exclusively on seat belts, OOIDA wants to see movement on crashworthiness standards for large trucks.

Congress mandated a study on crashworthiness standards in the current highway funding legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21.

The study came at the behest of Sarah VanWasshnova. Her husband Carl, an OOIDA member, died in a low-speed crash in 2009 when his day cab crumpled around him. Since then, Sarah has lobbied for crashworthiness standards in Class 7 and 8 trucks. Currently there are no regulations for occupant protection, rear impact, head restraints and roof-crushing standards.

“Despite lots of urging, NTSHA has never considered crashworthiness standards for truck cabs to be a valuable use of their time,” Spencer said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has only a study on underride protections listed in its dossier on crashworthiness research on large trucks. When pressed on the issue of the mandated overarching study on crashworthiness – that was due in early 2014 – during a recent Senate committee hearing, the NHTSA administrator said the full study is currently under review at the agency.

Safety issues facing truck drivers don’t stop with crashworthiness either, Spencer said.

“The other big issues in truck safety are driver training, or the lack thereof, as is the case today, and a support system that allows professional drivers to stop when they need to,” he said. “Currently, the hours-of-service regulations lack flexibility plus there is no safe place for drivers to stop. It’s a problem that has been growing worse for the past 20 years.”

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