The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced on Tuesday, April 18, that it plans to publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking that will consider requirements for side underride guards on trailers and semitrailers.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which opposes a side underride guard mandate, was quick to point out that NHTSA’s own research shows that the cost of a mandate would outweigh the benefits.
“NHTSA’s latest research once again indicates there is absolutely no reason to mandate side underride guards on commercial trucks,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said in a statement.
“The rush to mandate every gadget marketed as a safety device over the objections of professional drivers is a major reason crash rates continue to rise. We will not see improvements in highway safety until lawmakers and federal regulators prioritize the expertise of professional drivers above other interest groups. Proponents of side underride guards have never demonstrated how these devices will perform in highway conditions, yet we’re wasting more time reviewing another potential regulatory mandate where the costs outweigh the benefits. To make matters worse, we now have an advisory panel in place that gives more influence to representatives who have no clue how to operate a heavy vehicle than those who understand the serious operational challenges and hazards created by side underride guards. Are we the only ones who see why this is not the way to develop sound regulations?”
The advance notice of proposed rulemaking will seek comments on approaches “to potentially mitigate or eliminate side underride motor vehicle crashes.” NHTSA is analyzing the potential effects of a side underride mandate in compliance of a provision in the 2021 infrastructure law.
According to the yet-to-be-published notice, NHTSA estimates that a side underride mandate on all trailers and semitrailers would save 17.2 lives and reap up to $166 million in safety benefits annually. Meanwhile, the annual cost of the mandate would be up to $1.2 billion. The resulting cost per equivalent life saved would fall in the range of $73.5 million to $103.7 million.
The analysis did not include any effects of side underride guards on port and loading dock operations and freight capacity. It did not take into consideration modifications to infrastructure, maintenance and practicability and feasibility of intermodal operations for trailers equipped with side underride guards.
The White House Office of Management and Budget concluded review of NHTSA’s notice on Feb. 16, and the formal publication in the Federal Register is expected soon.
OOIDA has previously called any attempts at a mandate costly and impractical.
“OOIDA opposes efforts that would mandate the installation of front and side underride guards on all commercial motor vehicles and trailers exceeding 10,000 pounds in gross vehicle weight,” the Association wrote in 2021. “Over the last several years, NHTSA has considered numerous options involving side underride guards but has consistently concluded federal mandates would be impractical and costly, thus outweighing any perceived safety benefits. Any proposals to mandate side underrides disregards this reality and ignores the safety, economic, and operational concerns that have been raised by industry stakeholders.”
Underride advisory committee
NHTSA also released the names of those who will serve on an Advisory Committee on Underride Protections.
The committee will make recommendations to the secretary of transportation on safety regulations related to underride crashes that have caused severe injury and death.
“Safety is at the core of everything we do,” NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman said. “The selection and establishment of this committee is a step forward in saving lives and fulfilling the goals of the bipartisan infrastructure law. This committee will inform future actions and ensure that key stakeholders have a seat at the table on this important issue.”
The 16-person committee will include OOIDA Board Member Doug Smith, but it mostly consists of representatives from safety groups, crash investigators and industry interests.
The committee members:
- Marianne Karth and Jane Mathis to represent families of underride crash victims.
- Harry Adler and Jennifer Tierney to represent truck safety organizations.
- Lee Jackson and Aaron Kiefer to represent motor vehicle crash investigators.
- Adrienne Gildea to represent law enforcement.
- Daniel McKisson to represent labor organizations.
- Jeff Bennett and Jeff Zawacki to represent motor vehicle engineers.
- Matthew Brumbelow and Claire Mules to represent the insurance industry.
- Smith and Dan Horvath of the American Trucking Associations to represent motor carriers.
- John Freiler and Kristin Glazner to represent truck and trailer manufacturers. LL