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    What Driving Without a Seat Belt Says about Your Drivers

    driver putting on their seatbelt

    Most people wouldn’t consider walking alone down a dark alley at night when there is a well-lit and busy sidewalk nearby. Yet drivers who don’t put on a seat belt are taking a similar risk.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drivers who don’t wear a front seat belt are “30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle during a crash.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) amplifies how effective seat belts are at protecting drivers and passengers by adding that “More than 3 out of 4 people who are ejected during a fatal crash die from their injuries.” The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration further adds that “one out of every five truckers killed in a crash is ejected” from his cab because of not wearing a driver safety belt.

    According to a 2012 article published in the Annals of Epidemiology, neglecting seat belt effectiveness is considered an “antisocial behavior” that is associated with impulsivity and thrill-seeking. Such drivers are described as lacking “self-control” and are more likely to display other risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, and getting arrested for theft, assault, drug peddling, or violence. Driving without a seat belt (“driver unbelted) is one of the most prominent risky driving behaviors across all industries, according to Lytx data.  This makes it essential to focus on techniques that are most effective for your fleet.

    Since 1983 when seat belt data was first collected by the NHTSA, the national average for safety belt use has risen from 14 percent to 89.6 percent in 2018. During the same time, traffic fatalities decreased from an average of 18.2 per 100,000 people in 1983 to 11.4 per 100,000 people in 2017, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Nevertheless, seat belts are not effective at protecting the 10 percent of drivers who do not wear them.

    Fortunately, many states have adopted primary seat belt use laws that allow law enforcement personnel to ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a safety belt without needing another reason to stop the vehicle. Although drivers may not appreciate the warning, the traffic stop gives them the opportunity to assess why they choose to take unnecessary risks. Drivers who are cited for not wearing a seat belt are 3.4 times more likely to be involved in a crash, according to 2017 Lytx data.

    What to say to drivers who don’t wear seat belts

    Drivers don’t fail to buckle up because of lack of awareness of seat belt safety information. Slogans such as “Click it or Ticket!” “Saved by the belt,” and “Be protected, not projected” have widely promoted the primary purpose of a seat belt: protecting the safety of the driver and any passengers.

    According to Arcon Forensic Engineers whose firm determines the causes of property losses and personal injuries, drivers who don’t wear seat belts tend to make many of the same excuses, including:

    EXCUSE: “My car’s airbag will protect me.”

    RESPONSE: Airbags supplement your vehicle’s primary restraint system—its seat belts—airbags aren’t a replacement and don’t provide the same protection as buckling up. Minor collisions become major accidents when drivers or passengers don’t wear a seat belt.


    EXCUSE: “It’s better to be thrown from a car in the event of an accident.”

    RESPONSE: The NHTSA reports that accidents in which occupants are ejected from the vehicle are 2.3 times more likely to be fatal.


    EXCUSE: “I don’t drive fast enough to get hurt.”

    RESPONSE: Even collisions at under 20 mph (at which airbags do not deploy) have enough force to thrust your chest into the steering wheel and your head into the windshield. Wearing seat belts reduces injuries at every speed.


    EXCUSE: “It takes too much time to buckle a seat belt multiple times a day.”

    RESPONSE: It takes only about three seconds to buckle a seat belt. Buckling up even 20 times a day take a total of one minute.


    EXCUSE: “It’s my life; I can do what I want.”

    RESPONSE: You are responsible for more than your own life but for those of your passengers, and the drivers of other vehicles on the road, too. Wearing a seat belt gives you better control over your vehicle in a crash. In addition, a serious or fatal collision affects your family, too.

    Also, it’s the law that all drivers of commercial motor vehicles must wear safety belts.

    Thirty-five years after it became mandatory to wear a front seat belt, it is widely accepted that the primary purpose of wearing a seat belt is to increase the likelihood of survival for drivers and passengers in an accident. But studies show that drivers who ignore these rules don’t respond to statistics and data. They need help in changing their behavior and creating a new habit.

    Strategies to address non-compliance with seat belt rules

    One of the best methods of improving driver safety and changing behavior is showing drivers their risks in action. Using machine vision and artificial intelligence, advances in video telematics have made it possible to capture unsafe driving behavior in real time. This allows fleet managers to show drivers video of risky behaviors they exhibited on their last route. Allowing drivers to recognize for themselves when and where they have taken unnecessary risks can be more compelling than being lectured about safety rules.

    A recent sample of companies using Lytx fleet management solutions across several different industries showed improved seat belt use by 18.4% from Q1 2018 to Q1 2019.

    For this technique to be effective, it’s important to communicate that the camera isn’t there to ‘catch’ drivers in a negative act, such a driving distracted. Rather, it is to help them develop the safest driving behaviors. In addition, video telematics has the advantage of being able to exonerate drivers who are falsely accused of causing an accident. When coaching accompanies video and both are based on a positive attitude toward video telematics, the resulting changes in driver behavior are more likely to be long-lasting. 

    While coaching a driver in the presence of video changes the behavior of a large percentage of professional drivers, sometimes it is necessary to adopt other risk management solutions.

    According to a study sponsored by the NHTSA, drivers who put on a seat belt on some occasions but not others have unconscious reasons for doing so. Under those circumstances, the most effective strategy involves “increasing the social desirability” of wearing a seat belt. Your company could, for example, maintain a chart showing the percentage of drivers ALWAYS driving with a seat belt. Once the fleet achieves 100% compliance, there could be some type of reward for all the drivers. (This would also add passive peer pressure to the regulatory need to wear a seat belt.) This incentive should be part of a broader safety initiative.

    Another approach is to make safety part of the company culture and corporate identity. This would involve taking all steps to reduce accidents based on telematics data and may include the following:

    • advising drivers about upcoming congested traffic or potential for ice on the road
    • acknowledging or rewarding behaviors that are consistent with a safety culture (and is accompanied, throughout the company, by other behaviors that support safety and reduce unnecessary costs).

    Want more tips on improving safety in your fleet? Check out these additional resources for combating risky driving behaviors, including drowsy drivingaggressive driving, and distracted driving.