U.S. Department of Transportation
Office of Public Affairs
THE HONORABLE NORMAN Y. MINETA
SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION
MID-AMERICA TRUCKING SHOW TRUCK DRIVER BREAKFAST AND NEWS CONFERENCE
APRIL 1, 2005
Thank you, Administrator Sandberg, for that kind introduction and, more importantly, for your outstanding leadership at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
It is a pleasure to join the Nations truck drivers this morning. I want to thank you for all that you do to make your deliveries safely and to set an example for everyone who drives on our Nations highways.
You are the professionals—the knights of the road who are, literally, moving the American economy. Last year, truckers carried more than six trillion dollars worth of freight across this vast Nation—from factories, fields, and ports to warehouses, to stores, and even to our doorsteps.
Just as warming temperatures let us know that spring is on its way, the pick-up in truck freight traffic was an early signal of the economic recovery that has created over 3 million jobs since May of 2003. Beyond the numbers are the stories that I hear every day—the new drivers who are being hired; the surging orders for new cabs and new containers; and the forty to fifty thousand new truck and bus companies beginning service in the past year.
As the motor carrier industry expands to meet growing demand, one thing must be clear: There will be no taking our foot off the safety pedal.
Indeed, safety is the Bush Administrations top transportation priority. Over the last four years, we have raised the safety bar, setting an aggressive goal of reducing the traffic fatality rate by 41 percent by 2008.
And I am proud to report that our focused efforts are producing results. We have turned an important corner with overall fatalities on our roads falling in 2003 for the first time in six years.
A major factor in these lower fatality rates and numbers has been our success in encouraging more Americans than ever to buckle up. Nationwide, our efforts have helped to bring the national safety belt usage rate up to a record high of 80 percent—exceeding the ambitious goal that we set for ourselves in 2003.
And because more Americans are wearing safety belts, every year an estimated 15,200 lives will be saved, along with 50 billion dollars in economic costs.
In contrast to all of this encouraging news, however, the Department of Transportations statistics indicate that only about half of all commercial truck drivers wear their safety belts.
That is why, in December 2003, we launched the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Belt Partnership, bringing the Federal Government and the trucking industry together in the broadest effort that this country has ever seen to get truckers to use safety belts.
Since its launch over a year ago, the Partnership has made terrific progress in spreading the word to commercial motor vehicle drivers about the importance of buckling up. And I am pleased to say that the Partnership continues to grow, and now includes 17 members, giving us an even broader constituency to help get out our safety message.
Through the Partnership, we have been studying why it is more difficult to get the message through to truck drivers than it is to the general public. And what we have discovered from our conversations with truck drivers is that there are some dangerous myths out there about safety belts that affect many drivers attitudes and habits.
Far too many truck drivers take it on faith that the sheer size and weight of their rig will protect them, so safety belts are unnecessary.
There is a belief that wearing a safety belt is a personal choice, not a requirement.
And many truckers have bought into the notion that wearing a safety belt isnt necessary if youre a really good driver.
There is no arguing that most truckers are among the best drivers on the road.
But those who jump to the conclusion that their skill makes safety belts unnecessary couldnt be more wrong—possibly dead wrong.
In 2003, roughly half of the 620 commercial drivers killed in crashes were not wearing safety belts.
A total of 171 drivers were ejected from their trucks. It should come as no surprise that almost 80 percent of them were not wearing safety belts.
Driving unbuckled is a bit like playing Russian roulette, and because truckers drive so many miles, each trip tempts fate that this time the loaded chamber will turn up. Why?
Because the driver of the vehicle just ahead fell asleep.
Because of the stretch of black ice over the next hill.
Because of the crash scene around the next curve.
So, I have a message for the more than three million working truck drivers who choose not to wear a safety belt.
Because you never know what unexpected dangers await you on the road ahead, Be Ready
That is the theme of the new safety campaign that we are launching here today. It is all about the uncertainties of the road ahead—and about being prepared.
You are going to be seeing this common-sense message on brochures and posters displayed at truck stops and motor carrier facilities. You will see it on bumper stickers, and on t-shirts and hats that you can wear to help get this life-saving message out to your peers.
We want the words Be Ready
Be Buckled to become as familiar to you as your own handle.
And every time that you see and hear the message Be Ready
Be Buckled, I hope that you will think back to your most recent close call.
Now, think forward. You are safe because you are ready
because you are buckled.
At the beginning of my remarks this morning, I referred to truckers as our knights of the road. Please, before you turn on the ignition, make sure that you are wearing the most effective armor available—your safety belts.
Be ready. Be buckled. And travel safely.
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