NHTSA pressing forward with trailer side underride guard requirement

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Updated Apr 19, 2023

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Tuesday published advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM), signaling it will forge ahead with rulemaking that would require trailers be equipped with side underride guards. That begins with studying side underride guards and establishing an advisory committee.

NHTSA estimated that there are annually 89 light vehicle occupant fatalities and 409 serious injuries in two-vehicle crashes with tractor-trailers where a light passenger vehicle strikes the side of a tractor-trailer and underrides it. In its notice published Tuesday, NHTSA estimates that 17.2 lives would be saved and 69 serious injuries would be prevented annually when all trailers in a fleet are equipped with side underride guards.

“Safety is at the core of everything we do,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman. “The selection and establishment of this committee is a step forward in saving lives and fulfilling the goals of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This committee will inform future actions and ensure that key stakeholders have a seat at the table on this important issue.”

[RelatedIIHS testing validates safety potential of side-mounted trailer underride guards]

The ANPRM responds in part to a September 2013 petition for rulemaking to start studies and rulemakings on side underride guards and also in response to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) that directs the DOT Secretary to complete research on side underride guards to better understand their overall effectiveness, and to assess the feasibility, benefits, and costs of, and any impacts on intermodal equipment, freight mobility, and freight capacity associated with, installing side underride guards on new trailers and semitrailers. The BIL further directs the Secretary to report the findings of the research in a Federal Register notice to seek public comment. 

NHTSA currently specifies requirements for rear impact guards on trailers but there are currently no federal requirements for side underride guards. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act specifies provisions for underride protection measures for trailers and semitrailers

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The report says side underride guards could add upwards of 800 pounds to the trailer and upwards of $3,000 in additional cost. 

NHTSA also named the members of its 16-person Advisory Committee on Underride Protection, which will make recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation on safety regulations related to underride crashes. They are Marianne Karth and Jane Mathis to represent families of underride crash victims; Harry Adler and Jennifer Tierney to represent truck safety organizations; Lee Jackson and Aaron Kiefer to represent motor vehicle crash investigators; Adrienne Gildea to represent law enforcement; Daniel McKisson to represent labor organizations; Jeff Bennett and Jeff Zawacki to represent motor vehicle engineers; Matthew Brumbelow and Claire Mules to represent the insurance industry; Dan Horvath and Doug Smith to represent motor carriers, including independent owner-operators; and John Freiler and Kristin Glazner to represent truck and trailer manufacturers.

The ANPRM has not yet been published in the Federal Register. Once it is published, the agency will accept for 60 days comments "that would help NHTSA assess and make judgments on the benefits, costs, and other impacts of side underride guards to increase protection for occupants of passenger vehicles in crashes into the sides of trailers and semitrailers."

Legislation seeking to require side underride guards on trailers has previously been introduced in Congress, but the bills have not gained any traction. Such bills were generally opposed by trucking groups, including the American Trucking Associations and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, but were supported by safety groups and law enforcement.

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]