Bipartisan bills in House, Senate will require underride guards on trucks and trailers

December 13, 2017

Tyson Fisher


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced a bill on Tuesday, Dec. 12, that will require the installation of front, rear and side underride guards on all trailers, semitrailers and single-unit trucks more than 10,000 pounds. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif., introduced a mirrored bill in the House.

Referred to as the Stop Underrides Act of 2017, HR4622 and S2219 were both introduced on Tuesday as a bipartisan effort to curb deaths caused by vehicles crashing underneath trailers.

“The passengers in the car often suffer severe head and neck injuries, including decapitation, on impact with the truck,” Gillibrand said in a news release. “These accidents are often fatal, even at low speeds.”

According to the bill, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that hundreds of preventable fatalities and life-threatening injuries have occurred as a result of underride crashes. The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended the installation of rear, side and front underride guards on tractor-trailers to improve passenger motor vehicle safety.

If passed, rear and side underride guards will be required and considered compliant if they prevent a passenger vehicle traveling 35 mph from driving underneath the trailer. For front underride guards, the U.S. Department of Transportation will be tasked to complete research on their ability to prevent trucks from overriding a passenger vehicle.

Compliance with the underride guard mandate will begin one year after the issuance of each rule. A final rule will be published for front, rear and side underride guards each. A phase-in period up to three years may be permitted.

Underride guards will be subject to Commercial Vehicles Safety Alliance inspections to ensure compliance. Any driver not in compliance with underride guard rules, if passed, including guards in poor or unsafe conditions, will be placed out of service. Underride guards also will be subjected to pre-trip inspections.

“By implementing the use of strong rear, side and front underride guards, this legislation will make full use of the decades of car safety technologies already required in passenger vehicles and prevent needless deaths,” Cohen said in a news release.

The U.S. DOT will request proposals for the design of two rear underride guard prototypes that can protect motorists against severe injuries at speeds up to 65 mph. Every five years, the efficacy of the underride guards will be reevaluated.

Additionally, the Stop Underrides Acts will establish the Committee of Underride Protection to oversee the rulemaking process. The committee will include, truck and trailer manufacturers, motor vehicle engineers, motor vehicle crash reconstructionists, traffic safety organizations, public health professionals and at least two people whose families have been affected by an underride crash.

The Stop Underrides Act of 2017 is endorsed by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the National Safety Council.

In July, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called for more underride guard regulations. Schumer’s attention to underride guards came shortly after a fatal crash that had occurred on July 5 on Interstate 81. In the crash, four people were killed when a truck jackknifed after the trucker tried to avoid hitting a deer. Three of the four people killed were members of the RB Lawrence Ambulance Co.

During a news conference, Schumer urged Congress to update truck rear underride guard standards, require side underride guards and to study truck front underride guards. All three of those points are addressed verbatim in the Stop Underrides Act.

Earlier this year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published test results that revealed underride guards can prevent cars from driving underneath the side of a tractor-trailer. In the test with the underride prevention guard, cars did not go underneath the trailer, allowing the test dummies to be safely restrained with seat belts and airbags. With aerodynamic side skirts, a section of the car’s roof was sheared off, allowing the car to pass underneath the trailer.

In a letter to NHTSA, the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association wrote this:

This type of accident often involves driver error, so we recognize first that the rules already in place to prevent these accidents must be followed, including laws that prohibit driving while impaired or distracted, or driving at speeds that are too fast for the roadway and visibility conditions presented. In addition, proper maintenance of vehicle lighting equipment is also critical, both for passenger vehicle headlights and for trailer tail and brake lights and the red and white retro-reflective tape that FMCSA has required by retrofit since 2001 on the rear and sides of trailers.

In a separate letter to NHTSA on May 13, 2016, TTMA addressed the economic feasibility of side impact guards. The TTMA estimated that side impact guards could “add at least 750 pounds and $1,560 (2004 dollars) to each van trailer.” In a 1991 preliminary regulatory evaluation, NHTSA concluded that side guards for trailers were not cost-beneficial.

TTMA also addressed the technological feasibility of side impact guards. Everything from the efficacy of energy absorption and the conflict of sliding tandem axles at the rear was discussed:

Extensive data will be needed on the range of impact angles and speeds, on the performance of various vehicle crush characteristics and restraint systems, on the resultant vehicle dynamics if the impacting vehicle is engaged or redirected, and on the full range of occupant kinematic responses under these varying conditions, before effective standards can be established for trailer side guards.”