What are truck underride guards and why does the trucking industry oppose them?
Underride guards are metal bars fashioned together in a u-shape hanging from the back of trailers hauled by big rigs. They are designed to prevent vehicles from sliding underneath trailers during truck crashes. Such crashes occur when a car is following too closely or when a trucker is not paying attention to changing road conditions ahead and surprisingly slams on the brakes.
Large commercial tractor-trailers are required by federal law to have underride guards. The guards are also subject to federal strength and safety standards.
Without underride guards, certain accidents can become fatal truck crashes, when the other vehicle’s top gets sheared off by the trailer. However, the federal government has said the number of people killed in truck underride crashes – trailers with weak or missing underride guards – are likely underreported as such data is not uniformly captured.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office – Congress’ independent watchdog – in April recommended that federal crash reports include underride information.
The GAO also recommended to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that truck underride guards be inspected to ensure they are meeting federal safety standards. The NHTSA agreed.
Trucks Not Meeting Underride Guard Safety Standards
A nationwide inspection of truck underride guards will be held in June. That’s when the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance – a consortium of law enforcement and truck safety officials – will conduct its annual International Roadcheck event. This is two days of surprise roadside inspections of commercial tractor-trailers. Inspectors this year will be checking truck underride guards, making sure trailers have them, as well as ensuring they are not damaged or otherwise failing current safety standards.
Congress has also offered new laws that would increase the safety and strength of underride guards. But they have gone nowhere, largely due to the opposition of the truck industry. In March, federal lawmakers took another step to improve truck safety by reintroducing a previous bill that not only upgrades the safety standards of rear underride guards but requires commercial rigs weighing more than five tons to have side underride guards on their trailers.
Side underride guards are larger versions of rear underride guards that hang below the sides of trailers to protect cars from side-impact truck crashes. Lighter versions also are designed to protect pedestrians and bicyclists when hit by commercial trailers.
Side Impact Truck Crashes
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has tested side underride guards, finding they protect cars from sliding under trailers in 40 mph crashes. The organization has repeatedly called for them to be mandatory.
The legislation reintroduced in March, called the STOP Underrides Act, was first introduced in December 2017. It was openly opposed by the American Trucking Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association – two leading truck industry lobbying outfits. The ATA has said side underride guards are too expensive. The other lobbying group also cited the cost of side underride guards in its opposition.
In March, testing of side underride guards was conducted in Washington, D.C. for various lawmakers to show them firsthand their effectiveness. The testing was spearheaded by two mothers turned truck safety advocates. They both lost children in fatal truck underride crashes.
With rigs weighing up to 80,000 pounds, the trucking industry’s first priority should be protecting other drivers from fatal crashes, not protecting their corporate profits.
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Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Articles April 29, 2019