Divided Panel Recommends Side Underride Guard Rulemaking

Members Opposed to Rulemaking Will Draft a 'Minority' Report
underride guards
Some in trucking have questioned the need for side guards. (Airflow Deflector Inc.)

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An advisory committee charged by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with developing suggestions for how to save lives in underride crashes has by a slim majority voted to recommend that the agency launch a rulemaking to consider requiring that certain new semitrailers be equipped with side underride guards.

A series of meetings held by the committee — a diverse group with strongly held opinions — was marked by sometimes tense discussions. The subject of underride guards was a divisive one, so much so that those opposed to the rulemaking proposal are drafting a “minority” report for NHTSA outlining their concerns with the controversial devices, while those voting in favor of the rulemaking are drafting a separate “majority” report.

“There were a lot of decisions or votes that were unanimous votes,” Committee chairman Lee Jackson, an investigator with Fort Worth, Texas-based Traffic Crash Reconstruction, told Transport Topics. “And there was some division. I think the minority report will reflect that.”

Many trucking stakeholders, including American Trucking Associations, have questioned the wisdom of mandating side guards, primarily because of a lack of research and the cost and weight they would add to a tractor-trailer combination. Depending on the materials used, experts told the committee the extra trailer weight could total 600 to 1,000 pounds.

Some in the trucking industry believe regulators should take regulatory actions to prevent side underride guard crashes — perhaps through requirements tied to onboard safety systems — rather than require installation of the side guards.

Dan Horvath


The committee is facing a June 30 deadline to forward its recommendations to the Department of Transportation. Members held their sixth and purported final public meeting on May 22. While the group had requested more time from NHTSA to continue working, it had not received a reply before the meeting.

The 16-member committee’s clock began ticking nearly two years ago, when members had to race to initiate deliberations due to delays in appointing committee membership. Because the group has been so divided on various issues related to underride guards, its members voted on a variety of 29 separate motions to help arrive at final decisions related to various issues.

Chairman Jackson has been tasked with writing the majority report expected to be completed by June 18. He is a supporter of underride guards.

“The technology exists, and it’s just a matter of developing and implementing it. They can work,” he said in a phone interview from Germany. “I’m here in Germany and every vehicle has got a side underride guard. I’ve seen them in England, in Scotland and in France.”

Jeff Bennett, an executive with City of Industry, Calif.-based Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co., will write the committee’s minority report.


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Bennett made a presentation on side underride guard tests performed on Airflow Deflecter’s AngelWing product, noting that the guards were “not really effective in protecting side underride.”

Bennett has said that Utility has not seen much interest in side underride guards from motor carriers. “In short, we can’t even give them away,” he said.

After hearing presentations indicating that underride crashes are underreported, during the final meeting the committee approved motions calling on NHTSA to disseminate educational material to law enforcement to help them identify and record underride crashes, and that accident investigation forms include a “box to check” in underride crashes.

“The best decisions are based on good data,” Jackson said. “And we would like to have more data.”

Committee member Dan Horvath, ATA’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs and safety policy, has not directly discussed ATA’s policy position but has illustrated to fellow committee members that adding side underride guards will certainly include some operational considerations and challenges.

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“One of the primary concerns that has been raised numerous times is the compatibility of a side underride guard with various trailer configurations,” Horvath has told his fellow committee members. “Tank trailers, intermodal containers, agricultural trailers, belt trailers or grain hoppers are concerns that need to be addressed.”

Members during the May 22 meeting approved two motions submitted by Horvath. One calls on NHTSA to investigate the potential for collision mitigation technologies to prevent or reduce the risk associated with side underride crashes. The committee also passed Horvath’s motion to assess risks associated with deflection of adjacent lanes associated with partial offset rear crashes as well as side underride crashes.