New research has revealed that up to 50 percent of European truck drivers don't buckle up when they hit the road. A study by CEASAR Research Institute discovered that seatbelt use among truck drivers varies widely from country to country – from as little as 10 percent to better than 70 percent – it all averages out to the fact that around half of the long-haul drivers don't use their belts.
The study also attempted to figure out why the usage rates were so low. Not surprisingly, there's something of a stigma attached to strapping yourself into a big rig, with some drivers believing they're safer in a large mass vehicle compared to a small passenger car. Even so, the CEASAR study claims that traffic fatalities among truck drivers could be decreased by as much as 40 percent if drivers simply took the time to click it.
Of the countries surveyed, France had the highest seatbelt usage – 70 percent – thanks largely to the fact that the country has legislation on the books to encourage drivers to be safe. Driving without a seatbelt in France will net you points on your license. Too many points, and you're walking to work. Hop the jump for the full press release.
The use of safety belts among Europe's truck drivers is growing steadily. Still, however, fewer than half of all truck drivers use a safety belt. A recent study by the CEESAR research institute showed that the number of fatalities and injuries in traffic accidents would decrease by 40 per cent if everyone buckled up.
Road accidents are one of the most common causes of death in modern society. Between 2001 and 2008, 375,000 people were killed in traffic accidents in Europe. A key reason for this high death rate is that many Europeans still do not use safety belts. Truck drivers are at particularly high risk in road traffic.
Safety belt use among truck drivers ranges from 10 to 70 per cent in European countries, with an average of 50 per cent of drivers using the life-savers. This is despite the fact that safety belts are the best guarantee of safety in the event of an accident. A recent study by the CEESAR research institute showed that the number of fatalities and injuries in traffic accidents would decrease by 40 percent if everyone drove with safety belts. 6 out of 10 people involved in accidents would have suffered less serious injuries if they had used safety belts.
But what is the reason behind this lack of use of the safety belt? This is a question that Volvo Trucks' Traffic and Product Safety Director, Carl-Johan Almqvist, has long grappled with.
"Many drivers live under the impression that it is much safer to drive a big truck than a small passenger car," he says.
This is certainly true, but the argument fails for drivers who drive into concrete bridge supports even at very low speeds. And it is the unbelted truck drivers who overturn who suffer the really severe injuries.
"We human beings quite simply have no speed sensors. We can read the speed on a gauge, but we have no means of registering speed within our own bodies," says Carl-Johan Almqvist. He explains, "This contrasts with our feeling for height as you would never jump from a height of four metres and just hope for the best. However, in terms of trauma to the human body, this resembles a head-on collision at 30 kilometres an hour without a safety belt. We understand height but not speed,"
It is also a question of attitudes. An Paepen is responsible for Volvo Trucks Driver Development – a driver training programme for professional drivers. She has heard just about every reason there is to explain why drivers do not use safety belts.
"It varies with the type of driver. Many distribution drivers feel it is annoying to put their belts on and take them off when they are only driving short distances between stops. Long-distance drivers want to be as comfortable in their workplace as they are at home in the sofa and construction drivers like to be able to hop out of their seats should something go wrong," says An Paepen and continues, "But it is also a question of age. The older generation, who did not grow up with safety belts, are on their way out. The youth of today are much more accustomed to using safety belts."
That the trend is heading in the right direction is confirmed by the ETSC, an independent traffic safety organisation based in Brussels.
"In general, safety belt usage is growing at a steady pace," says Vojtech Eksler, analyst at ETSC.
In France, safety belt use has for several years been above 70 per cent. France has introduced a point system to penalise people who drive without safety belts. Drivers have a set number of points deducted for different offences and if the number of points drops to zero, they lose their driving license and have to re-take their test in order to get a new license. Driving without a safety belt costs the driver three points, with a further two points deducted if the passenger also has no safety belt.
In Sweden, however, where safety belts originated, usage is about 40 per cent. "It is obvious that countries that have introduced a point system similar to the French one have noted the greatest increase in belt usage. People are more afraid of losing their driving license than they are of paying a fine," continues Vojtech Eksler.
In the USA, 72 per cent of drivers use safety belts, although in states with stricter laws, the figure is 80 per cent. According to Vojtech Eksler, there are many players who could work together in order to boost safety belt usage even further. Governmental authorities and the EU could sharpen their focus on providing safety information and pursuing the law. Insurance companies could impose higher excesses in cases of accidents where the parties concerned do not use a safety belt. Technical considerations are also important, he explains.
"We can see a clear link in our research. In vehicles with safety belt warning systems, both driver and passenger safety belts are used far more than in vehicles where these devices are not fitted," says Vojtech Eksler.
Carl-Johan Almqvist of Volvo Trucks emphasises that car manufacturers must take responsibility and work more to spread information and increase drivers' safety awareness.
"We have fitted safety belt reminders for some years now and for the more forgetful driver we have our red belts, which because they are so easily visible also serve as a reminder to safety-conscious customers," says Carl-Johan Almqvist.
The problem, he explains, is that the majority of automatic systems can be bypassed by people who wish to do so.
"Because driver safety is our top priority, we ensure that we emphasise the importance of safety belt usage to all our drivers and customers," says Carl-Johan Almqvist.
This is the idea behind the driver training programme for which An Paepen is responsible and which Volvo Trucks has been offering its customers for the past three years now. The training programme meets the EU directive, which stipulates that this type of course is compulsory once in every five years, requiring all drivers to undertake a minimum of 35 hours advanced training in aspects such as health and safety and driver efficiency. The Volvo Trucks course lasts five days, one of which focuses entirely on driving safely.
"Much of the training consists of encouraging drivers to become aware of their own safety. The problem in this context is that it is very easy to say 'this doesn't concern me.' We show films, study different types of accidents and provide information on airbags, which are designed to work in conjunction with seat belts," explains An Paepen.
The Volvo Trucks product development team works continuously in order to build stronger and safer trucks so as to minimise injuries should an accident occur.
"The bitter truth, however, is that without a safety belt, you are never going to sit safely inside a truck no matter how much work we have invested in the vehicle. Making trucks entirely safe for unbelted drivers is an impossible task. So use your safety belt, it could save your life," says Carl-Johan Almqvist.