Rules and regulations aren’t always fun to follow. But, they sometimes guide us in the right direction. Laws like speed limits and other rules of the road help keep us safe. Many OTR drivers have even more regulations to follow, primarily because they’re responsible for hauling heavy loads.
Semis sit higher off the ground and often carry large and/or heavy loads. Some trucks incorporate underride guards. These metal bars aid in keeping cars from sliding underneath a tractor-trailer during a crash. They form a U shape that hangs from the rear and sometimes sides of trailers. They help prevent serious injury, even something as horrible as decapitation.
Why does this matter? Because some accidents can perhaps be avoided with underride guards. According to federal data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, in a twenty-year span, between 1994-2014, there were 5,081 fatalities due to underride crashes. Many semis manufactured each year have minimally-compliant rear guards and no side underride guards.
A report from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) found approximately 219 deaths annually due to underride crashes involving large trucks. However, the report states that “police officers responding to a crash do not use a standard definition of an underride crash, and states’ crash report forms vary.” Consequently, many officers don’t uniformly report deaths resulting from underride crashes.
The issue of underride guards for trucks has not gone unnoticed by the U.S. government. The Stop Underrides Act of 2017 aimed to “require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue a final rule to require the installation of rear underride guards that meet a specified performance standard on all trailers, semi-trailers and single-unit trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds that are manufactured on or after the effective date of the rule.”
This past March, two similar bills, S665 and H.R.1511, were introduced. They require tractor-trailers with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more to install rear, side and front underride guards. As of last week, each of these bills has 13 co-sponsors in the Senate and 20 in the house. Both bills are supported by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
Though semis are required by Federal law to be equipped with rear underride guards, there is no such law for side ones. Boston, Seattle and New York require side underride guards on trucks owned by their city and those for which they contract.
This summer, the CVSA utilized 9,000 inspectors as part of its annual International Roadcheck program. These professionals checked trucks to verify that the underride guards on their trailers were in line with federal regulations. During the program, drivers of semis with a damaged rear guard were levied fines. Some were assessed two points on their CSA score.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) started testing side underride guards in 2017. The organization has tested rear underride guards for multiple years. In crash tests conducted by IIHS, side underride guards offer benefits similar to rear guards. Without the protection, a car hitting the side of a tractor-trailer slides underneath. This would most likely occur even at 35 miles per hour. In such an instance, any passengers sitting in the front seat would be killed.
The report from GAO recommends more study on underride accidents by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The organization wants the department to “take steps to provide a standardized definition of underride crashes and data fields, share information with police departments on identifying underride crashes, establish annual inspection requirements for rear guards and conduct additional research on side underride guards.”
Opponents of mandated side underride guards argue that the equipment would add too much weight to trucks. They note that rear and side underride guards would limit the weight semis are able to transport by approximately 1,600 pounds. They also believe the guards would decrease fuel efficiency and add stress to trailer frames. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) opposes this proposed mandate and ones similar to it.
The Dynamic Fleet
At Dynamic Transit, we strive to ensure our drivers the best equipment in place to keep them safe while on the road. All of our Peterbilt 389s have underride guards. Learn more about our fleet, and read what life is like as one of our OTR drivers.