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Feds give tank truck owners option to enhance brake lighting

Lobby group petition granted over concerns that additional lights could be confused with emergency vehicles

Tank truck operators have option to add red-flashing brake lights. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Tank truck carriers have convinced federal regulators that allowing truck owners to install pulsating red or amber brake lights on the backs of tank trailers will improve safety despite concerns raised by safety groups.

In a decision scheduled to be filed on Thursday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) approved a petition filed in September 2019 by the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) that will allow carriers the option to install a red or amber brake-activated pulsating lamp on the backs of trailers, in addition to the steady-burning brake lamps currently required by federal regulations. The exemption from regulations requiring that the lamps be steady burning is for five years.

NTTC supported its request citing federal research showing that rear-end crashes — which amount to roughly 30% of all crashes — are frequently attributed to a following vehicle’s failure or delay to respond to the lead vehicle’s application of brakes to decelerate. That research also reportedly said large trucks are three times more likely to be struck in the rear in two-vehicle fatal crashes than other vehicles.

NTTC also noted a similar exemption granted last year to Enid, Oklahoma-based Groendyke Transport that allowed the company to install brake-activated amber lights on the backs of their trailers. “Groendyke demonstrated that installing these lamps on 632 of their trucks reduced their rear-end collisions by 33.7% and eliminated all highway-rail grade crossing rear-end crashes in a 30-month period,” NTTC stated.

While the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) and the Virginia Department of Transportation agreed with the likely safety improvement provided by amber lights, they were concerned that allowing for red pulsating lights would cause confusion with emergency responders.

Red pulsating lights “may negatively impact the driving public’s recognition and response to emergency vehicles,” CVSA argued. The safety group also warned that the exemption would conflict with state laws in several states.

FMCSA acknowledged those concerns but placed more emphasis on Groendyke Transport’s experience and its own research.

“FMCSA believes that this real-world experience, along with the … research programs that demonstrated the ability of alternative rear signaling systems to reduce the frequency and severity of rear-end crashes, is sufficient to conclude that the implementation of [a] red or amber brake-activated pulsating lamp … in addition to the steady-burning brake lamps required by the regulations is likely to provide a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level of safety achieved without the exemption.”

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.