By: Allen Smith
The STOP Underrides Act is a proposed bill to: “reduce the number of preventable deaths and injuries caused by underride crashes, to improve motor carrier and passenger motor vehicle safety, and for other purposes.”
At the first underride round table the industry requested a comprehensive approach to the underride issues front, side and rear. From that request a group of people formed the committee: “Knights of the Underride Roundtable” which met in June of 2016 to work on solutions to the issue.
The committee continued with conference calls and emails to craft a “Comprehensive Underride Protection Consensus Recommendation” to the Department of Transportation (DOT). This would later form the basis of the STOP Underrides Bill.
This group included more than just surviving victims of underride crashes. Others included: Professional Truck Drivers, Attorneys, Engineers from both the ATA and the TTMA, National and International Academia experts, the IIHS, safety advocates and accidental reconstruction engineers. From those meetings came the information for the legislation.
As in any situation involving safety and the trucking industry, opposition to what may be seen as just another “regulation” hitting drivers and the industry is to be expected.
This post is to take a moment to respond to these opposition points, particularly those presented by OOIDA per their Underride Talking Points which focuses on Safety, Cost and Operational Challenges and which are also the same or similar concerns of others within the industry.
Underride Talking Points
LACK OF SAFETY IMPROVEMENTS
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has considered numerous proposed rules involving underrides over the last forty years, but consistently concluded a mandate would be impractical.
Response: This is due to the fact that consideration has been based on lack of adequate data. It is believed that NHTSA underride crashes represent only 4% of reported crashes. At 4%, this would still result in 180 fatalities per year. However, the DOT has determined that underride crashes are seriously under-counted, with the IIHS reporting the figures to be between 27% – 50%. The fatal crashes involving Marianne Karth and Lois Durso, both were not reported as underride crashes, regardless that in reality, they were. Furthermore, there is evidence that underride events are undercounted by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a census of fatal crashes on public roads in the United States. Without proper and undercounted reporting of underride deaths, it would be impossible to establish cost/benefit. Presently there is a computer/virtual study of the potential for a side guard design to prevent underrides being conducted right now by NHTSA. and we are Results will be made public when concluded.
- Research indicating underride guards would reduce crash severity and fatalities is lacking, and current crash statistics are imprecise due to inadequate reporting.
Response: In 2015, 301 of the 1,542 passenger vehicle occupants killed in two-vehicle crashes with a tractor-trailer died when their vehicles struck the side of a tractor-trailer. This compares with the 292 people who died when their passenger vehicles struck the rear of a tractor-trailer. Because of gaps in federal crash data, IIHS researchers can not determine exactly how many of these crashes involve underride, but they estimate that underride occurs in about half of fatal crashes between large trucks and passenger vehicles. A 2012 IIHS study found that strong side underride guards have the
potential to reduce injury risk in about three-fourths of large truck side crashes producing a fatality or serious injury to a passenger vehicle occupant. This proportion increased to almost 90% when restricted to crashes with semi trailers.
- While most underride crashes do not involve intrusion of the passenger compartment, sudden impact with a high-strength underride guard could fully crush an automobile, causing severe injuries and/or fatalities.
Response: Since it has already been established by DOT that there is a significant underreporting of underride crashes and fatalities, it stands to reason that the reporting of passenger intrusion is also underreported. The guests on our show had three children killed by underride crashes with passenger compartment intrusion (PCI).
For one of the guests’ child, the FARS report inaccurately reported “No Passenger Compartment Intrusion”. For the other accident where 2 children were killed, it was inaccurately reported as “Compartment Intrusion Unknown”. Both accidents and all 3 killed were not even reported as an underride crash.
If the underride crash data is not reported accurately, it is impossible to obtain accurate stats for PCI. Here is a table from FARS, which even with under-reporting, shows significant passenger intrusion.
- Installing heavy guards would displace a trailer’s payload. To compensate for the loss of capacity, more trucks would be needed to move the same amount of freight and pressure to increase minimum weight allowances would intensify. More and/or heavier trucks on the road would undoubtedly decrease highway safety.
Response: The same argument used during the ruling process for APU’s. The solution? APU weight exemption. An exemption for the additional added weight, estimated to be between 500 and 800 pounds, would solve this issue as it did with the APU ( FHWA memo notes: “We determined that (the exemption) does not pre-empt state regulations or compel the states to grant the increased weight tolerance.” ) It would be a logical and simple step allowing for a mandate which we believe is truly focused on safety.
- The economic impact of a federal mandate would be massive, especially for small trucking businesses.
Response: The current cost to implement an underride guard mandate is $500 for retrofit ( Stoughton Trailers was able to install one on their new trailers at no added cost or weight penalty to their customers)
Based on a rear retrofit kits for $500 rear and $1560 for sides ( based on OOIDA): roughly a total of $2060 per trailer.
According to the NHTSA, there were 4317 crash fatalities involving large trucks in 2016. The average cost in legal representation for a motor carrier involved in a fatal crash is $3.8 million; in a serious injury crash, the average is $1.2 million. Other cost includes: days out of service, points added, increase of insurance premiums, not to mention driver existing emotional scars. Fatal and non-fatal crashes cost the industry billions of dollars per year in legal fees, where adding underride guards have been proven in studies to reduce both fatalities and serious injuries in such crashes.
- Side underride guards would add approximately 750 pounds to a vehicle’s overall weight, displacing a significant portion of a trailer’s payload. Losing nearly half a ton of capacity would immediately decrease the earnings of small trucking businesses, who already operate on the slimmest of margins.
Response: Again, weight exemption as was done with the APU legislation as more-so with this as an actual mandate as safety is the legitimate concern.
- Little consideration has been given to the impact underride guards would have on the daily operations of truckers. Underride guards create challenges for trucks navigating grade crossings, high curbs, and other road conditions.
Response: Underride guards are placed 16″ above the surface, giving sufficient room for travel conditions, as well as access to inspect the underneath carriage for pre and post trip inspections and/or repairs. In addition, a primary manufacture of guards, Angel Wing, does not cover the rear wheels and other prototypes provide guards equipped with a roll-up device further signifying that engineers have taken all such considerations into account.
- There is no front underride equipment currently on the market because the concept lacks any practicality. Nobody is certain how this equipment would look, what operational challenges it would present, how it would impact safety and what it would cost.
Response: Front underguards are in fact in use throughout Europe and Australia and have resulted in greatly reduced fatal underride crashes with little financial impact on the industry. In the Stop Underrides bill, research is to be conducted by NHTSA to determine if a retrofit would even be economically or technically feasible. According to the bill, Frontguards would the responsibility of the manufacturers of new trucks.
- Spread axle trailers are commonly used in the trucking industry in order to better distribute weight, providing a safer and legal loading option. Side underride guards could restrict the use of such axle/tandem movements, hindering the operational efficiency and safety of the trailer and the load it’s carrying. Side underrides would also limit a driver’s ability to easily inspect equipment located under the trailer, including critical safety systems.
Response: Guards are designed for each particular trailer with engineers taking into account each individual design. In such trailers, the axle/tandem area would not be covered, allowing the ability for tandem movement and again, with the 16″ height placement, the ability to inspect under the trailer remains accessible.
Marianne and Jerry Karth, along with Lois Durso were our guests on the recent Ask The Trucker “LIVE” program and provided much more details and facts regarding the above concerns.
Listen to the program via: Underride Protection Act of 2017- Truck RearGuards & SideGuards.
Both sites include many photos and videos pertaining to their research focusing on the above opposing talking points as well.
Underride Guards a compilation of helpful resources