After a 35-year low from 2009 to 2012, the number of truck driver crash fatalities has been steadily climbing in the U.S., prompting federal safety regulators to look for ways to improve traffic safety and drive down the number of truck-crash related deaths and injuries.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 317,000 crashes involving large trucks were reported in 2012, killing 700 truck drivers or their passengers and injuring about 26,000 others. The estimated cost of these crashes to the U.S. economy was $99 billion that same year.

Approximately 65 percent of truck drivers who died on the job in 2012 were the result of crashes, but more than one-third of those drivers were not wearing a seat belt, the CDC said.

“We know that using a seat belt is the single most effective intervention to prevent injury or death in a motor vehicle crash. However, in 2012 more than 1 in 3 truck drivers who died in crashes were not buckled up, a simple step which could have prevented up to 40 percent of these deaths” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias. Dr. Arias called on employers and government agencies at all levels to stop these preventable deaths by having strong company safety policies and vigilantly enforcing state and federal laws.

While improving survivability of a crash is one approach for improving safety, regulators also stressed the need for better crash prevention.

“Using a seat belt is the most effective way to prevent injury or death in the event of a crash,” said Stephanie Pratt of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Center for Motor Vehicle Safety. “The smartest strategy for overall safety is to prevent truck crashes from happening in the first place. Employers can help prevent crashes and injuries through comprehensive driver safety programs that address other known risk factors such as drowsy and distracted driving.”

The CDC compiled data it collected at 32 truck stops along interstate highways throughout the U.S. in an effort to find out more about long-haul truck driver health and injury. Key findings of the CDC’s survey include:

  • An estimated 14 percent of long-haul truck drivers reported not using a seat belt on every trip.
  • More than one-third of long-haul truck drivers had been involved in one or more serious crashes during their driving careers.
  • Long-haul truck drivers who reported not wearing seat belts also tended to engage in other unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding and committing moving violations. They were also more likely to work for an employer that did not have a written workplace safety program.
  • Long-haul truck drivers who lived in a state with a primary seat belt law – the law that allows police to stop motorists solely for being unbelted – were more likely to report often using a seat belt.

To reduce the risk of crash related death and injury to truck drivers, the CDC recommended the following measures:

  • States can help increase seat belt use by truck drivers through high-visibility enforcement of seat belt laws by state troopers and motor carrier safety inspectors.
  • Employers can establish and enforce company safety policies, including belt-use requirements for truck drivers and passengers as well as bans on text-messaging and use of handheld phones.
  • Employers can educate truck drivers about ways to avoid distracted and drowsy driving.
  • Engineering and design changes that provide increased comfort and range of motion and allow adjustments for diverse body types might increase use of seat belts by truck drivers.

For more information about accidents and injuries involving 18-wheelers and other heavy trucks, contact Chris Glover at


U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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