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Bill in Congress would require side underride guards on trailers, bolster rear guards

Crash Test Vehicle

The lawmakers introducing the legislation say a side underride guard mandate would save hundreds of lives a year. ATA contends that, while the guards could improve safety, the focus should be on active safety systems that prevent crashes from occurring in the first place.

A bipartisan and bicameral group of U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday announced intentions to introduce a bill in Congress to require tractor-trailers to be equipped with so-called side underride guards, intended to protect car occupants in crashes in which the car slides under the trailer.

The bill would also require the U.S. DOT to bolster the standards for rear-impact underride guards. Trailers are already required to be equipped with rear guards, but the Senators introducing the bill say the standards outdated. Several trailer manufacturers in recent years, however, have already taken steps to beef up their rear impact guards to better protect car occupants in underride crashes.

Underride crashes pose risks for severe head and neck injuries, even decapitation, to car passengers. The legislation, dubbed the Stop Underrides Act, is being introduced and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and in the House by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.). The lawmakers say the new requirements could save hundreds of lives a year. Though they offered few details on the legislation, it likely would only require new trailers to be equipped with the guards and not institute a requirement that existing trucks be equipped with the guards. More information will be published once the bill is released.

“With so many unpredictable accidents on the road, underride guards are an easy solution for protecting people and preventing them from dying when a car collides with a truck,” says Gillibrand. “I urge all of my colleagues to join me and Senator Rubio on this bipartisan bill.”

IIHS testing validates safety potential of side-mounted trailer underride guards

In 2015, IIHS says 301 of the 1,542 passenger vehicle occupants killed in two-vehicle crashes with a tractor-trailer died when their vehicles struck the side ...

Gillibrand joined Cohen and DeSaulnier in publicly announcing the legislation Tuesday, alongside representatives from the Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety and family members of victims of fatal underride crashes.

A study released earlier this year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that side underride guards provide similar safety benefits as rear-mounted guards. IIHS said in its report that 301 people died in crashes in which a passenger car struck the side of a tractor-trailer. IIHS determined that rigid side underride guards could reduce injury risk in about 75 percent of side-trailer crashes.

The American Trucking Associations earlier this year said that while the side guards may improve safety, they’re not sold on the fact a mandate is needed. ““For example, side underride guards would add significant weight and require stiffer trailers which can develop cracks in the frame rails during normal operation – wearing out sooner and creating a safety issue of potential trailer failure during operation,” the organization said through in a statement to CCJ in May.

ATA contends that more work is needed to implement active safety systems — those that prevent crashes from occurring in the first place — than on passive safety systems, those that protect drivers and occupants after crashes occur.

“Wider deployment of advanced vehicle safety technologies like automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning systems can help prevent all kinds of crashes, including those into the sides of truck,” ATA said in May.

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James Jaillet is the News Editor for CCJ and Overdrive. Reach him at jjaillet@randallreilly.com.