NHTSA seeks to improve tractor-trailer safety equipment

Cartwright - January 7, 2016 - Blog, Truck Accidents

One of the most dangerous truck accident scenarios is commonly referred to as an underride crash. The trailers on most commercial semi-trucks sit five or six feet above the road. When a smaller vehicle rear-ends a tractor trailer, it can easily be pulled partially underneath the trailer.

Even worse, the bottom edge of the trailer can penetrate the cab of the smaller vehicle at about head height. Too often, underride accidents are fatal and can even result in decapitation of passengers in the rear vehicle. Safety features called underride guards can reduce the risk that a smaller vehicle will be pulled underneath the truck in a rear-end collision. Unfortunately, many believe that the current U.S. standards for these devices are inadequate.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would like to change that. Currently, underride guards (also called rear-impact guards) only need to be strong enough to protect passengers in a collision of up to 30 miles per hour. The NHTSA is proposing a rule that would require guards to protect in crashes up to 35 mph, a modest but important increase.

Thirty-five mph is currently the standard required in Canada. Moreover, the NHTSA estimates that about 93 percent of trailers currently for sale in the United States already meet that higher standard. Therefore, the cost of industry compliance would likely not be a significant barrier.

To be sure, standards could be significantly higher than even the proposed 35 mph. But auto safety regulation tends to be a lengthy process that often requires incremental improvements. Therefore, any changes that improve safety, even small changes, should be encouraged and celebrated.

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