Sen. Charles Schumer calls for more underride guard regulations

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 7/25/2017

According to a recent press conference, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wants more truck safety regulations. This comes shortly after a tractor-trailer crash resulted in the deaths of four motorists after it jackknifed to avoid a deer.

On Friday, July 21, Schumer sent out a press release addressing 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.

Standing outside RB Lawrence Ambulance Co. in front of grieving family members, Schumer emphasized the need for energy-absorbing underride guards.

“If the truck had a protective barrier known as underside guards, the cars would have been stopped, better protecting both the driver and the passengers,” Schumer said.

Schumer mentioned stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that claims hundreds of lives could be saved each year with underride guards on trucks. According to NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, 301 passenger vehicle occupants were killed after striking the side of a tractor-trailer in 2015. In comparison, 292 were killed after striking the rear of a tractor-trailer. FARS stats reveal that 1,542 passenger vehicle occupants were killed in all crash types involving a tractor-trailer.

However, even Schumer admits during the press conference that underside guards may not have saved the lives of the four people in the July 5 crash. NHTSA’s FARS numbers only reveal the numbers, not cause, fault, or whether or not underride guards would have reduced the severity.

During his press conference, Schumer urged his colleagues in Congress to join him in pushing for “new, tougher truck safety standards.” Schumer is specifically calling for three critical safety improvements:

  • Update the truck rear underride guard standard. 
  • Require trucks be equipped with side underride guards. 
  • Study truck front underride guards.

According to Schumer’s press release, underride guards are outdated and do not work as effectively with modern vehicles equipped with “crumple zones.” The senator also wants transportation agencies to conduct research and development to devise front underride guards.

“Requiring trucks be equipped with underride guards is a proven technology that will save lives and make our roads safer,” said Schumer.

Earlier this year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) published test results that revealed underride guards can prevent cars from driving underneath the side of 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 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 association 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.”
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