The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking at whether to require side underride guards, which the agency estimates would save over a dozen lives each year.
Impact guards can absorb energy and prevent a passenger vehicle involved in a crash with a large truck or trailer from sliding under the impacted trailer, the NHTSA noted. The agency is seeking comments on benefits, costs and other effects of a requirement, according to an advance notice of proposed rulemaking released April 18.
"NHTSA requests comments on approaches to potentially mitigate or eliminate these horrific crashes given the disparity in vehicle size and crash outcome,” the agency said. “Are there alternative engineering solutions to mitigate underride crashes into the sides of trailers? Are there nonregulatory actions that could be taken to decrease side underride crashes?”
NHTSA estimated that 17.2 lives would be saved and 69 serious injuries would be prevented annually if all trailers in a fleet were equipped with side underride guards, according to the notice.
The review is in response to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which required the agency to conduct additional research on side underride guards to determine their effectiveness and how feasible they would be to install.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association quickly shared its criticism of the developments.
"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has considered numerous proposed rules involving underrides over the last forty years, but consistently concluded a mandate would be impractical and the costs associated with implementation would far outweigh any safety benefits," OOIDA said in a statement.
OOIDA President Todd Spencer said federal regulators need to prioritize the expertise of professional drivers above other interest groups. "Proponents of side underride guards have never demonstrated how these devices will perform in highway conditions,” he said, “yet we’re wasting more time reviewing another potential regulatory mandate where the costs outweigh the benefits."
The agency used AirFlow Deflector’s AngelWing side impact guard in its assessment. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found the device provided protection for a 40 mph crash.
The initial hardware cost for the AngelWing side impact guard was $2,990 per trailer. That would translate to around $778 million to put the devices onto new trailers, and “lifetime fuel costs for new trailers entering the fleet each year” would increase industry expenses by at least $200 million, the agency said.
NHTSA expressed caution about using its calculations, noting limitations. The NHTSA said other devices developed in the future could mitigate side underride crashes at higher speeds, have lower costs or weigh less than the AngelWing side impact guard.
Government creates underride committee
Among other measures, the 2021 law required the government to create an Advisory Committee on Underride Protection.
The NHTSA said April 18 that it created a 16-person committee as required under the infrastructure law. Committee members represent truck safety organizations, motor vehicle crash investigators, motor vehicle engineers, the insurance industry, truck and trailer manufacturers and motor carriers, including independent owner-operators.
Also part of the Advisory Committee on Underride Protection is Trucking Safety Coalition board member Jennifer Tierney, who is representing families of crash victims. Tierney said in an interview that underride crashes are grossly underreported because crash reports aren’t uniform. NHTSA has found evidence to support that view, estimating that side underride crashes were 78% higher than what was reported in a nationwide reporting tool.
The committee, which had an introductory event online this week, has its first meeting on May 25.
“Underride fatalities are preventable,” Tierney said. “I'm very, very pleased that we're moving forward with this.”