Trucks left out of push for vehicle occupant protections

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/6/2014

The lives of truck drivers are not considered in a national safety agency’s push to protect vehicle occupants in the event of crashes. But all hope is not lost, as a separate agency is working on a crashworthiness study for truck cabs.

In January, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its latest “most wanted” list for transportation in 2014, and protecting vehicle occupants in the event of crashes made the list as a top priority.

Truck cabs, however, were not mentioned in the narrative, and the only mention of truck drivers appears in the description of a 2010 crash in Kentucky involving a tractor trailer and a passenger van. That crash left 11 people dead, including the truck driver.

The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal agency that investigates crashes, reports to Congress, and makes safety recommendations for a variety of agencies. Its annual “most wanted” list in the past has featured some hot-button issues for truckers, such as driver training, speed limiters, sleep apnea monitoring, collision avoidance systems and electronic on-board recorders.

The difference in this year’s list is the lack of mention of trucks or truck operators.

The NTSB wants better occupant protection for cars, buses and even trains.

“While preventing accidents is always the goal, saving lives and reducing injuries in the event of an accident is also critical,” the NTSB’s office of public affairs states. “Increasing the use of available occupant protection systems and improving crashworthiness to preserve survivable space can mean the difference between life and death.”

The push calls for improvements to vehicle restraints, children’s car seats, motorcycle helmet laws, airbags, and “preserving survivable space” in the event of crashes.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says occupant protection should extend to operators of heavy-duty trucks.

“On the passenger car side, there are significant efforts to rank and rate car and light-truck crashworthiness and occupant protection, but little to no attention in this area is present with heavy-duty trucks,” OOIDA states on its Truckers for Safety website.

“All of this is more troubling as regulations regarding fuel economy are placing greater incentives on truck manufacturers to lighten the weight of truck cabs.”

Crashworthiness study due in April
In 2012, Congress directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to analyze the need for cab crashworthiness standards for heavy-duty trucks.

The law mandates that NHTSA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, report its analysis to Congress on April 1 of this year.

Land Line reached out to the administration to check the status of the analysis. A spokesman for NHTSA provided very little in the way of details.

“NHTSA is currently finalizing the report for MAP-21 Subtitle B, Section 32201, Commercial Motor Vehicle crashworthiness standards. The draft report still needs to undergo agency and departmental review before its release to Congress,” the spokesman said. “Barring significant issues in review, the report is expected to be released this spring.”

OOIDA believes strongly that occupant protection standards for trucks would save lives and prevent injury.

“In 2012, almost 700 large-truck drivers or passengers died in accidents, an increase of 9 percent from 2011, and every year more than 20,000 large truck occupants are injured in crashes,” OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley said. “Yet we continue to see a disturbing lack of progress on the issue of occupant protection by NHTSA.”

More about NHTSA
In addition to analyzing cab crashworthiness for trucks, NHTSA is the agency in charge of developing action on speed limiters for trucks based on a petition from the American Trucking Associations and Roadsafe America.

NHTSA also partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 to develop the first ever fuel-economy standards for heavy trucks affecting model years 2014 through 2018. The next round of standards is already on the way, and indications are that they’ll include trailers in addition to the cabs.

Copyright © OOIDA