A bipartisan billed introduced by two U.S. senators would make underride guards on semi-trucks a requirement in order to prevent collisions in which smaller vehicles slide underneath, often totaling cars and decapitating drivers. The guards are steel bars that hang from the rear of trailers to prevent the front of a vehicle from sliding underneath. Although most trucks already come equipped with underrides, it has yet to become an industry requirement.
Statistics estimate that “underride crashes,” as they’re called, kill more than 200 people every year. These collisions often occur at night or in heavy fog, when drivers who can’t see well on dimly lit roads realize too late there is a truck in front of them. If they are traveling on a highway at a high rate of speed, they may not have time to brake. “Many of these crashes kill people and they are preventable with proper underride guards,” said consumer advocate Joan Claybrook. “The trucking industry could do this voluntarily but hasn’t, so legislation and regulation are required.”
The trucking industry has so far supported other efforts to avoid such collisions, such as automatic emergency braking, rather than focusing on making guards a requirement. “It’s very difficult politically,” said Claybrook, “because the trucking industry wants to stop any safety standards that it can, because it increases the price of a truck.”
The American Trucking Associations said in response to the legislation the federation is “committed to working with NHTSA, Congress and others on ways to improve highway safety, including fostering the development of promising vehicle technology like automatic emergency braking and collision warning systems, which can prevent many types of crashes in the first place, and supporting the new requirements for electronic logging devices, which studies have shown are associated with decreased crash rates and hours-of-service violations.”
The Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association also released a statement, saying, “[We] would support the implementation of side impact guards if they ever become justified and technologically feasible,” suggesting that they have not yet proven to be either. A spokesperson added, that a “lack of specific data has hampered efforts to determine the impact of guards in preventing fatalities,” but the committee “looks forward to reading Sen. Gillibrand’s new legislation.”
While the trucking industry may be slowing the process in order to keep costs down, Russ Rader, senior vice president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said requiring underrides is clearly needed. “We think better rear underride guards and requiring guards that protect the sides of tractor-trailers could save a lot of lives,” he said.
Rep. Steven Cohen (D-Tenn.) agreed, adding that the bill is important not because it is easily funded, but rather, it is supported by drivers who realize the guards are lifesavers. “This is the type of legislation that does not have deep-pocket support; it doesn’t have interest groups with money to push it and to support it,” he said. “But it has the interests of the people and the safety of the people. It’s the right kind of legislation that should be advocated in Congress more often.”