Why are Underride Guards so Important?Underride guards and semiguard rails are designed to prevent passenger vehicles from getting lodged underneath trailers. Because commercial trucks and passenger vehicles are so mismatched, the impact can be devastating – not due to the force of the impact but due to the location of the impact. Passenger vehicles have a crush/crumple zone that is designed to absorb the impact when collisions occur. In normal accidents between passenger vehicles, the impact is in this specific zone. However, trucks are much larger than passenger vehicles; therefore, the crush/crumple zone is completely untouched. Because the bottoms of trucks are much higher than the crush/crumple zone in passenger vehicles, the first point of impact is usually between the bottom of the truck and the passenger vehicle’s windshield. When the rear end of the trailer hits/breaks the windshield and enters the passenger compartment of the vehicle, it is referred to passenger compartment intrusion (PCI). If the collision is strong enough, PCI can lead to traumatic injuries that result in instant death, including crushing injuries, for example. In more minor collisions the PCI can be less intrusive and result in non-life-threatening injuries, although likely debilitating. When commercial trucks have rear underride guards, the risk of PCI is almost nonexistent. Because of that, underride guards and semiguard rails are considered to be so important in reducing the number of deaths and injuries suffered in underride accidents and truck accidents in general.
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Current Underride Guard RegulationsCurrent underride regulations were established in 1996. In this year, experts estimated that more than 11,500 rear-end truck accidents occurred every year – resulting in more than 423 fatalities and more than 5,000 injuries among the occupants of passenger vehicles. How did regulation in 1996 aim to address these devastating numbers?
- FMVSS No. 223 – this is considered the equipment standard. It specifies the requirements that the guards must meet prior to being installed on trailers. The standard outlines specific strength requirements, as well as certain testing procedures to ensure that the guards are compliant with such requirements. The standard also requires that all guard manufacturers provide thorough instructions regarding the proper installation of the rear guards. Manufacturers must also permanently label the underride guard to show that it meets all requirements established by the standard.
- FMVSS No. 224 – this is considered the vehicle standard. It requires that commercial vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or more be equipped with rear underride guards (that meet the guard specifications established by FMVSS No. 223). The standard also establishes specific requirements for the location of the underride guard (location is relevant to the rear end and sides of the trailer). It also requires that the underride guard is mounted on trailers exactly how it is instructed to be done by the manufacturer of the guard.
Attempts to Change Underride Guard RegulationsMany people claim that the existing legislation regarding underride are simply not enough. Underride truck accidents continue to cause devastation. Because of that, there have been many attempts to change guard regulations to make them more effective. In 2017, the Stop Underride Act would have strengthened rear underride guards, required installation of side underride guards, and required inspections of guards, for example. Unfortunately, the act never passed. However, proponents of the change in underride regulation have not given up. The Stop Underride Act has been reintroduced as of 2019. The act would require that trucks with weights of more than 10,000 pounds to have side guards and front guards. The act would also require that the standards to rear guards to be updated. H.R. 1511, is designed to reduce preventable deaths/injuries caused by underride truck accidents. The act is also designed to improve passenger vehicle safety in the case of truck accidents. The act is based on the recommendation of the National Transportation Safety Board to install front, rear, and side underguard rails on trailers to improve the safety of passenger vehicles.
Opposition to New LegislationThe American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) objected the act in 2017 and object the act now in 2019. Both the ATA and OOIDA agree that the requirements laid out in the Stop Underride Act would be impossible to accommodate on the majority of trucking equipment; they also claim that the requirements would result in only minimal changes in safety. The ATA claims that the trucking industry is focused on improving highway safety and developing technology that will reduce crashes rather than just make crashes less severe. The ATA and OOIDA claim that the requirements are unnecessary and expensive. They also claim that there are trucks that are physically unable to accommodate for guards – which would pose another problem. The ATA and OOIDA have also made it clear that some trucks are nearing retirement, and implementing these requirements would be a waste of funds.
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