A top safety official in the trucking industry is urging police to step up enforcement of seat-belt laws on motor carriers due to the high number of drivers and other occupants who weren’t complying with those laws when they died in crashes.

Speaking on Wednesday at a virtual business meeting organized by the Intermodal Association of North America, Jack Van Steenburg, chief safety officer at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), cited the most recent statistics showing that of nearly 900 occupants of large trucks killed in crashes in 2019, almost 50% were not wearing seat belts. That tracks closely with passenger vehicles, in which 47% of the 22,215 occupants killed were not wearing seat belts.

“I just cannot believe people are not wearing seat belts behind [the wheel] of trucks, and cars too,” Van Steenburg said.

“There’s no doubt [trucking companies] have policies on seat belts, but how do we make that become a habit, how do we enforce that at the carrier level? Somehow you have to reinforce that. What we’re encouraging law enforcement to do is include trucks in their activities, and if the driver is not wearing a seat belt, write them a ticket. We have to change the culture when it comes to seat belts.”

During the meeting, which focused on safety and maintenance issues, Van Steenburg said he was also concerned about the number of drivers testing positive for drugs or alcohol as revealed through the latest data compiled by the FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.

The data shows that of the close to 65,000 drivers who have tested positive, only about 11,000 have successfully made it through the return-to-duty process, which means roughly 54,000 drivers registered in the clearinghouse are prohibited from driving.

Before the clearinghouse was created in January 2020 to make such violations widely and quickly accessible, it was easy for prohibited drivers to continue working. “Where did these drivers go? They did the job hopping, going from one carrier to another, and they didn’t have to report — there was no record of their positive testing,” Van Steenburg said. “So make sure that when you hire these drivers, you go through the clearinghouse and check their history.”

FMCSA is stepping up enforcement as well on drug violators who continue driving, Van Steenburg said, noting that 2,500 of the drivers who failed to go through the return-to-duty process were found through roadside inspections.

To crack down on violators, Van Steenburg said that FMCSA will soon be issuing a final rulemaking on a proposed “driving ban” that gives state agencies authority to stop issuing, renewing or upgrading a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial learner’s permit (CLP) to drivers with drug and alcohol violations, as well as to downgrade drivers’ CDL and CLP driving privileges.

“It will be automatic that they get suspended,” he said. “They’ll get driving privileges back when they go through the return-to-duty process.”

Related articles:

Overall injuries in large-truck crashes increase 5.3%
FMCSA proposes ‘driving ban’ for drug/alcohol violators
Drug/Alcohol Clearinghouse fines set at $5,833 per violation

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.