In response to a request by two U.S. senators, roadside commercial motor vehicle inspectors later this month will spend a day collecting data on the condition and maintenance of rear trailer underride guards.
“The most recent federal standard requirements for tractors and semi-trailers to be equipped with rear underride guards have been in place since 1996,” said a letter sent earlier this year by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to Kansas Highway Patrol Capt. Christopher Turner, president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. “However, many lives are still lost in underride crashes due to a lack of enforcement.”
Gillibrand and Rubio introduced a bill in December calling for a new regulation that would require trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds to install side underride guards and ensure that rear guards meet a specified performance standard.
The Stop Underrides Act (S. 2219) has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
In the meantime, the two lawmakers also have asked CVSA to consider upgrading the standard for rear guards with cracks, rust or corrosion to be placed out-of-service.
“We’ve been requested to look at them to see whether or not they belong in the out-of-service criteria,” Kerri Wirachowsky, director of CVSA’s roadside inspection program, told Transport Topics. “Maybe, maybe not. But before we go that far we need to see what is out there and what the condition of them are.”
Although there are federal requirements on size, placement and condition of the rear underguards, CVSA does not have a handle on how vigorously inspectors are checking the underguards or issuing violations when they’re “beat up, bent or have lost bolts,” Wirachowsky said.
“It is part of the Level I inspection. But you can have a slightly damaged rear-end guard and still be in compliance. Part of the reason I’m doing the collection is, are inspectors not focusing on them like they should? Maybe not,” she said.
“There are currently 15 items on the CVSA out-of-service criteria that render a commercial motor vehicle operator unqualified to drive if their trucks do not meet CVSA standards,” the letter said. “This list includes lighting devices, windshield, wipers and frame of the vehicle. Similarly to how cracks in a truck’s frame undermine the integrity of the truck’s structure, cracks in a rear underride guard present an imminent hazard to road users should they collide with a truck.”
In a statement, CVSA said its state inspectors may select a day during the week of August 27-31 to capture the data on rear impact guards that will be reported to the CVSA’s vehicle committee at the group’s annual conference in Kansas City, Mo., in September. Based on the data, the CVSA board could make a decision on whether to include the guards in the out-of-service criteria.
The letter said that an analysis of Fatal Accident Reporting System data showed that 4,295 people died from underride crashes from 1994 to 2015.
The underguards are intended to prevent cars from sliding underneath the body of the truck. However, when an underride guard is not well maintained, the results can be deadly, according to the senators’ letter.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2015 proposed a rule (which has not advanced) that called on motor carriers to adopt Canada’s rear underride guard standards, which are tougher than those in the United States.
However, Russ Rader, senior vice president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told TT that most of the trailer manufacturers are making the underride guards stronger than the proposed rule.
The problem of ineffective rear guards is mostly with older, used trucks, Rader said.
“Because the older the trailer, the more difficult it is to make an upgrade, Rader said. The newer trailers that are on the road are more likely to have the structural components in place that the manufacturers are using to mount the guards.”