We spend a lot of time talking about safety tech, and for good reasons. Modern safety technologies encourage safe driving and ensure truck drivers and passenger vehicle operators stay safe on our nation’s roadways. And side underride guards are an essential part of trucking safety technologies. And yet, until now, they were never mandated on trailers. While trucking companies are encouraged to use them as part of a holistic truck safety tech program, they may not become a mandated requirement. But how did we get here? Let’s look closer.
What Are Side Underride Guards?
Side underride guards are safety devices designed to prevent passenger vehicles from sliding under trailers in the event of a collision. In 2017, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested the effectiveness of the AngelWing side underride guard in preventing cars from underriding trailers. Based on these tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 17.2 lives would be saved, and 69 serious injuries would be prevented each year if all trailers were equipped with side underride guards.
While cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Francisco have already mandated the use of side underride guards on city-owned truck fleets, there are currently no federal requirements for side underride guards on trailers in the U.S. But the research did not stop there. The NHTSA initiated research on side underride guards following a Government Accountability Office recommendation in March 2019.
Then, in November 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, commonly known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, required the Department of Transportation (DOT) to research side underride guards, report its findings, and seek public comment. The result is an advance notice of proposed rulemaking that outlines the costs and benefits of mandating side underride guards.
What’s In the Data?
NHTSA’s analysis estimates that it would cost approximately $778 million annually to outfit the estimated 260,000 new trailers sold each year with mandated side underride guards. However, this estimate does not include any additional costs associated with factors such as extra weight, reinforcing trailers to accommodate the guards, changes to trailer loading patterns, and other factors.
One factor that complicates estimating the cost of mandating side underride guards is that NHTSA’s analysis was based on only one side underride guard system: the AngelWing guard manufactured by AirFlow Deflector. The agency is asking for information on other side underride guards available in the U.S. and many industry stakeholders approve of this stance. Trucking companies will have to make some changes to ensure they comply with a new mandate.
In addition to seeking information on other side underride guards, NHTSA is asking for more information on a number of factors that were not included in its cost-benefit analysis. These include:
- The effects of side underride guards on trailer operations.
- Additional wear and tear on equipped trailers.
- The potential obstruction of proper safety inspections of the underside of the trailer.
- Potential strikes or entanglements with road structures and loading area components.
- Restrictions on trailer axle configurations.
- The potential effects of side underride guards on port and loading dock operations and freight capacity.
- Increased greenhouse gases and other pollutants resulting from increased fuel consumption.
What Do Industry Stakeholders Think About the Mandate?
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) opposes a side underride guard mandate and has pointed out that NHTSA’s own research shows that the cost of a mandate would outweigh the benefits. OOIDA President Todd Spencer said in a statement that “proponents of side underride guards have never demonstrated how these devices will perform in highway conditions, yet we’re wasting more time reviewing another potential regulatory mandate where the costs outweigh the benefits.”
Spencer also criticized the new Advisory Committee on Underride Protection, which will make recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation on safety regulations related to underride crashes. He said that the committee “gives more influence to representatives who have no clue how to operate a heavy vehicle than those who understand the serious operational challenges and hazards created by side underride guards.”
While the costs and benefits of mandating side underride guards on trailers are still being studied, it is clear that these safety devices can help prevent fatalities and serious injuries in the event of an underride collision. The NHTSA’s proposed rulemaking and call for public comment on the matter highlight the importance of gathering information and considering all factors before making a decision that could have a significant impact on the trucking industry.
Why is This a Big Deal?
Underride crashes are a serious concern for road safety. These crashes occur when a passenger vehicle collides with the rear or side of a large truck or trailer and slides under the vehicle, often resulting in severe injuries or fatalities for the occupants of the passenger vehicle. Underride crashes are particularly dangerous. Why? Because the trailer crushes the top of the car. This results in serious head and neck injuries.
Side underride guards are designed to prevent underride crashes by preventing the passenger vehicle from sliding under the trailer. While some countries have requirements for “lateral protection devices” to prevent pedestrians or cyclists from falling in front of the trailer’s rear wheels, no country currently requires side underride guards on trailers to prevent vehicle underride. However, the increasing focus on road safety and the potential benefits of side underride guards have prompted the NHTSA to investigate the issue further.
The NHTSA’s analysis estimates that mandating side underride guards on all trailers would cost approximately $778 million annually, not including any additional costs associated with reinforcing trailers to accommodate the guards or changes to trailer loading patterns. The agency is seeking more information on the potential effects of side underride guards on trailer operations and logistics, as well as the potential costs and benefits of different types of side underride guards.
What Are the Pros and Cons?
Opponents of a side underride guard mandate argue that the costs outweigh the benefits and that there is not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of these devices in real-world highway conditions. However, supporters argue that the potential benefits, such as preventing fatalities and serious injuries, make it worth considering a mandate.
Ultimately, the decision on whether to mandate side underride guards on trailers will depend on the outcome of ongoing research and public comment. It is important to gather all the information and consider all the factors before making a decision that could have significant impacts on the trucking industry and road safety.
In the end, side underride guards prevent passenger vehicles from sliding under the trailer. While some countries have requirements for “lateral protection devices” to prevent pedestrians or cyclists from falling in front of the trailer’s rear wheels, no country currently requires side underride guards on trailers to prevent vehicle underride.
The NHTSA is investigating the potential costs and benefits of mandating side underride guards on all trailers in the U.S. While opponents argue that the costs outweigh the benefits, supporters believe that the potential benefits, such as preventing fatalities and serious injuries, make it worth considering a mandate.
Ultimately, the decision will depend on the outcome of ongoing research and public comment. It is crucial to gather all the information and consider all the factors before making a decision that could have significant impacts on the trucking industry and road safety.