One in Five Truck Drivers Is a Seat Belt Slacker
Author: Matthias Gaul
In Europe, too many people are still traveling in commercial vehicles without wearing a seat belt. That is the conclusion of the latest traffic monitoring done by DEKRA Accident Research.
In Europe, truck drivers are obligated to wear seat belts in their vehicles. This requirement has been in effect in Germany since 1992, in France since 2003, and throughout the EU since 2006. But how many drivers actually comply with this obligation and how high is the number of “seat belt slackers”? The figures collected annually by the Federal Highway Research Institute paint a reasonably satisfactory picture, at least for Germany. According to these numbers, the overall rate of road haulage drivers correctly buckling up was 92.7 percent in 2021, 5.5 percent higher than the 87.2 percent in 2020 – determined across 4,500 vehicles.
But can these numbers be confirmed across the board? And what is the situation outside of Germany? To answer these questions, DEKRA Accident Research carried out a traffic monitoring study between April and July 2022 – not only in Germany, but also in France, the Czech Republic, and Denmark. The results are rather sobering, however. Of the almost 17,000 people recorded, only about 14,000 were wearing seat belts. This corresponds to an average rate across all four countries of just 83 percent. “It’s completely baffling that, even today, almost one in five commercial vehicle occupants still don’t fasten their seat belts,” said Jann Fehlauer, Managing Director of DEKRA Automobil GmbH, when presenting the figures at this year’s IAA Transportation in Hanover. After all, despite all the further development of active safety systems, the seat belt is still the number one lifesaver in road traffic.
A lot of education and persuasive efforts still needed
In all four countries, DEKRA evaluated vehicle classes N1 (under 3.5 tons gross vehicle weight), N2 (3.5 to 12 tons), and N3 (over 12 tons) – all at different locations in towns, outside towns, and on freeways. The overall seat belt use rate was lowest in the Czech Republic (77 percent) and highest in France (87 percent). Germany (82 percent) and Denmark (83 percent) were in between. In all countries, the seat belt use rate was highest in the van class (N1). Most “seatbelt slackers” were driving light trucks (N2) in the Czech Republic and France, and heavy trucks (N3) in Germany and Denmark. Overall, seat belt use by people in the driver’s seat was more frequent in all countries and across all vehicle classes than by passengers in the front passenger seat.
The figures from Germany can be compared to earlier studies by DEKRA Accident Research from 2004 to 2014. In general, there has been a significant increase in some cases over the years. This applies to all vehicle classes, albeit to varying degrees. For heavy trucks in particular (N3), the starting level in 2004 was very low. Particularly striking is the increase in the N3 inner-city class from only around 21 percent in 2004, and 49 percent in 2014, to currently 73 percent. Similarly, in class N3 on the highway, there has been an increase from 16 percent in 2004, and 66 percent in 2014, to 82 percent today.
“Overall, the trend is heading in the right direction – nevertheless, the numbers that our colleagues determined in 2022 are still disturbing and ultimately unacceptable,” emphasizes Jann Fehlauer. We will hardly see an improvement without tangible sanctions and appropriate monitoring. Above all, however, we still need a great deal of education and persuasive efforts. DEKRA will continue to work hard to achieve this.
Passive safety: Why seat belts can save lives, even in trucks
Be it electronic stability control, emergency brake assist, lane departure warning, or lane keeping systems: From the perspective of accident research, there is no doubt that such driver assistance systems significantly increase the road safety of commercial vehicles and thereby serve to protect all parties involved in accidents. Yet all the new safety technologies and driver assistance systems cannot belie one fact: The use of seat belts is still the most important measure for reducing the risk of serious injury to vehicle occupants. This applies equally to all vehicle classes and thus also to heavy commercial vehicles. Various studies assume that of all truck occupants who were killed in traffic while not wearing seat belts, between 40 and 50 percent could have survived if the seat belt had been worn correctly.
As a restraint system in the vehicle, a worn seat belt protects the vehicle occupants from being flung around within and out of the vehicle. Due to the direct fixation to the vehicle body, the occupants fully benefit from the effect of the crumple zone. The combination of defined extensibility of the belt straps with belt tensioners and belt force limiters means that the deceleration values for the strapped in occupants remain acceptable even in severe collisions. The other components of passive safety equipment, such as airbags, are also designed for strapped in occupants and can therefore only develop their optimum protection potential when the occupants wear their seat belts.