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Commercial trucks must have rear underride guards under NHTSA proposal

August 1, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently proposed a new safety rule requiring single unit commercial trucks to now have rear underride guard protection.

It’s an important rule that requires American trucks to have the same safety technology that trucks have had in Europe and Asia for years. And it’s going to save many lives and prevent far more serious injuries when cars predictably crash into the backs of trucks.

A truck underride guard is a metal bar or bars that hang down from the bottom rear or sides of a commercial truck’s trailer to prevent cars from slipping underneath.

According to a press release from the NHTSA, the organization released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on July 17, which is the first step of a larger agency push to upgrade the standards for truck and trailer underride crash protection.

The advanced rule focuses on rear underride crash protection — and visibility — of single unit trucks.

Single unit trucks are those with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds and no trailer. They’re primarily straight trucks, in which the engine, cab, drive train and cargo area are mounted on one chassis. These trucks are often designed to perform a specific task, such as dump trucks, garbage haulers, concrete mixers, tank trucks, trash trucks and local delivery trucks.

This safety development has nothing to do with liability or fault in civil lawsuits. Instead, it has everything to do with making these types of truck accidents more safe for the occupants of passenger cars that rear end the backs of trucks.

The NHTSA estimates that a requirement for rear impact guards on trucks could save five lives and prevent 30 injuries each year, and would cost approximately $669 million to equip about 342,000 vehicles.

In addition, a requirement for reflective tape on single unit trucks could save up to 14 lives per year with a cost of approximately $30 million annually, for approximately 579,000 new vehicles.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said the aim is to “raise the public’s awareness of large trucks and help trucks be more visible to others on the road…” in order to “reduce the number of fatalities and injuries in underride crashes – or prevent these crashes from happening in the first place.”

The agency is currently requesting comments about requirements for rear impact guards, as well as and reflective material on the rear and sides of these vehicles.

On a personal note, our own attorneys and the excellent attorneys who make up the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group have been talking about the importance of this safety feature on trucks for years now. Good friends and good lawyers like Andy Young, Larry Simon, Valerie Yarashus and Robert Collins, have worked hard to help make this happen.

I’ve been a proponent for truck underride guards ever since I litigated my first case involving the absence of one in a terribly tragic car-truck collision nearly two decades ago. As you can imagine, rear-end truck accidents where there are no underride guards are horrific and violent. Many involve decapitation and death. And in the truck-car accidents where the driver and occupants of the passenger car does survive, the accompanying injuries are usually catastrophic.

In Michigan, the issue  resurfaced again last year, when there were two serious rear-end truck accidents in metro Detroit. In one, a 22-year-old man, died after his had car slid under the back of a tractor-trailer truck in Brownstown Township. Fox 2 News interviewed our own Michigan Auto Law attorney Kevin Seiferheld on the safety issue and the need for underride guards.

As I’ve said before, the problem is that most trucks do not have rear underride guards, and when U.S. truck underride guards are present, they’re not strong enough. For instance, a study from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety found that underride guard bars are grossly inadequate and cannot withstand most impacts when struck by a car exceeding 35 MPH.

It’s easy for truckers to feel defensive about this issue. But I want to once again stress as I did in the beginning of this blog that this is not about legal blame when a passenger car rear ends a commercial truck and people die who otherwise could have lived.

We know with statistical certainty that dozens of these truck underride crashes are going to occur every year. And we know that without these underride guards, the crashes will be far more deadly than they need be.

We also know that a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment – the same type that has been mandated by law in Europe, Asia and South America – will save many lives if implemented here in the U.S.

The NHTSA plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on requirements for rear impact guards on trailers later this year.

Related info:

Terrible truck underride crash in Marshall, MI is a shocking reminder for tougher truck underride standards

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