Side underride guard provision removed from California bill

May 17, 2024

Keith Goble

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A reworked California bill no longer includes a mandate to install side underride guards for trucks traveling in the state. The bill does include a provision to equip all cars and trucks sold in the state with speed assistance technology.

Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced the legislation that he touted as a “head-on attempt” to reduce the number of traffic deaths and injuries on California roadways.

As introduced, SB961 included a requirement for side underride guards on every truck, trailer or semitrailer with a gross vehicle weight rating exceeding 10,000 pounds. The pursuit called for equipping trucks manufactured, sold or registered in the state with side guards on both lateral sides of the vehicle.

The proposed mandate riled many in the trucking industry, including the California Trucking Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Doug Morris, OOIDA director of state government affairs, said the Association has shown side underride guards “are impractical, provide little to no safety benefit and cause major issues at many loading docks, railroad crossings as well as other traffic impediments.” Morris added that the costs outweigh the benefits.

The California Trucking Association encouraged Wiener not to compete with and instead to support the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s ongoing research and rulemaking on the issue.

In an effort to move his bill forward, Wiener removed the side underride guard provision.

‘Passive intelligent speed assistance’

Wiener’s original bill also included a requirement for every car, truck and bus manufactured and sold in the state to be equipped with speed governors. These devices limit vehicle speed based on the speed limit for the roadway segment.

Wiener cited an “alarming surge in road deaths” in the state, including a 2023 TRIP report that found traffic fatalities in California have increased by 22% from 2019 to 2022. That figure compares to a 19% increase for the U.S. overall.

Additionally, the California Office of Traffic Safety’s 2023 Traffic Safety Report showed that one-third of all traffic fatalities in the state from 2017 to 2021 were speed-related.

Wiener, however, amended SB961 in committee after hearing concerns about using technology to prevent drivers from exceeding the posted speed by more than 10 mph for any reason.

The current bill would require vehicles manufactured or sold in the state to be equipped with “passive intelligent speed assistance.” Specifically, the warning system would provide audio and video signals to alert drivers when they are traveling 10 mph over the posted speed.

The system would be phased in over eight years. In 2029, half of new passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles and buses manufactured or sold in the state would be required to have the warning system. All new vehicles would be required to have the warning system by 2032.

The rule would not apply to earlier model years or vehicles sold in other states.

A bill analysis for SB961 points out that establishing a California-specific production line for vehicles would be “extremely costly and impractical.”

“Auto manufacturers are much more likely to simply overhaul the production of all American vehicles to comply with this bill,” the analysis reads. “In effect, the author is attempting to leverage the purchasing power of the state to create a new standard for nationwide industry.”

OOIDA President Todd Spencer said that driver training for all motor vehicles would go farther in improving highway safety.

The underride guards bill awaits a final Senate floor vote. If approved there, it would move to the Assembly. LL

More Land Line coverage of California news is available.