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April 17, 2019 11:15 AM, EDT

FMCSA, NHTSA Should Study Side Underride Guards, GAO Says

Rear underride guard Insurance Institute for Highway Safety via YouTube

A federal government watchdog study has recommended that federal regulators take steps to collect better data on underride guard crashes and share information with police departments in identifying underride crashes.

“Although reported underride crash fatalities represent a small percentage of total traffic fatalities, they present a greater risk of fatalities or serious injuries,” said a report released this month by the Government Accountability Office.

An underride guard is designed to withstand the force of a crash to prevent a car from sliding under a truck. From 2008-17 there were an average of 219 fatalities in truck-involved underride crashes annually, about 5.4% of the total 4,015 truck-involved crash fatalities each year, GAO said.

GAO Underride by on Scribd

Current federal requirements issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration exist for the installation of rear guards on most large trucks. NHTSA has proposed strengthening rear guard requirements for trailers, but estimates about 95% of all newly manufactured trailers already meet the stronger requirements that exist in Canada.

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GAO said that the results of a five-day special law enforcement effort last summer to take a closer look at the condition of rear underride guards was reason enough for regulators to require an annual inspection of the guards.

According to data collected by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance during the five-day stepped-up summer enforcement event, inspectors checked more than 10,000 trailers. They issued about 900 violations — 28% of all violations — for rear guard dimensional or structural requirements identified, including almost 500 instances where the rear guard was cracked, broken or missing altogether, GAO said.

“The lack of specific requirements that rear guards be inspected annually for defects or damage potentially affects the safety of the traveling public and FMCSA’s ability to achieve its safety mission,” the GAO study concluded.

side underride guard

Side underride guard by AirFlow Deflector Inc.

The study also raised questions about the long-term viability and industry acceptance of side underride guards, which are still in the developmental stage and for which no federal standards currently exist.

“Side underride guards are being developed, but stakeholders GAO interviewed identified challenges to their use, such as the stress on trailer frames due to the additional weight,” GAO said. “NHTSA has not determined the effectiveness and cost of these guards, but manufacturers told GAO they are unlikely to move forward with development without such research.”

Regarding single-unit trucks, such as dump trucks, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that NHTSA develop standards for underride guards, but the agency has concluded that “these standards would not be cost-effective,” GAO said.