Safety agency once again takes up mandating side underride guards

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Updated May 2, 2023
Illustration of side underride guards on a trailer
Government Accountability Office

A federal transportation safety agency is once again taking up the issue of requiring side underride guards for trailers. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Tuesday published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to consider requirements for side underride guards. The agency said in a statement that "impact guards are designed to absorb energy and prevent a passenger vehicle involved in a crash with a large truck or trailer from sliding under the impacted trailer, which causes severe injuries and fatalities."

 The ANPR comes in response to a petition from the Truck Safety Coalition and a provision of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The infrastucyre legislation requires the transportation secretary to complete research on the effectiveness of side underride guards. It also directs DOT to 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.

The ANPRM has not yet been published in the Federal Register. Once it is published, the agency will accept comments for 60 days.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association yesterday voiced its opposition to side underride guards, calling on regulators to listen to drivers on such safety issues. The association also said the costs of adding side underride guards to trailers "outweigh the benefits," and questioned the creation of an advisory panel that will make recommendations on the issue.

“NHTSA’s latest research once again indicates there is absolutely no reason to mandate side underride guards on commercial trucks," said Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA, in a statement from the organization.  "The rush to mandate every gadget marketed as a safety device over the objections of professional drivers is a major reason crash rates continue to rise. We will not see improvements in highway safety until lawmakers and federal regulators prioritize the expertise of professional drivers above other interest groups.

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"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. To make matters worse, we now have an advisory panel in place that 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. Are we the only ones who see why this is not the way to develop sound regulations?” 

The NHTSA also named the members of its Advisory Committee on Underride Protection, which will make recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation on safety regulations related to underride crashes.

The 16 members selected to serve on the committee include:

  • 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
  • John Freiler and Kristin Glazner to represent truck and trailer manufacturers.

“Safety is at the core of everything we do,” NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman said. “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.”