A coalition of safety groups want federal regulators to postpone a recent rule on truck-trailer performance standards until the new regulation can be significantly improved.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation, scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 11, 2023, is “fatally flawed,” the safety groups assert, because it failed to consider crucial data on crashes in which passenger cars slide under the rear end of tractor-trailers due to insufficient protection on the back of the trailer.
“For those of us who have lost loved ones in these incredibly violent underride crashes, the rule is exasperating and heartbreaking,” said Jennifer Tierney, a board member of the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC), part of the groups filing a petition for reconsideration with NHTSA.
“We urge U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and NHTSA Administrator Steve Cliff to take immediate action to improve the rule to protect all road users and prevent future needless tragedies.”
NHTSA’s final rule, issued on July 15, adopted requirements similar to Canada’s standard for rear impact guards. Rear guards on truck trailers will be required to “provide sufficient strength and energy absorption to protect occupants of compact and subcompact passenger cars impacting the rear of trailers” at 35 mph (56 kph).
The rule is designed to improve protection in crashes in which a passenger car hits the center of the rear of the trailer, according to NHTSA, and in which 50% of the width of the passenger motor vehicle overlaps the rear of the trailer.
But TSC and its partner, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), argue that the final rule fails to meet a directive included in last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) requiring a tighter standard for underride guards that better protect cars in the event of a crash, based on data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“NHTSA estimates in the final rule that 94% of trailers and semitrailers already meet its proposed minimum performance standard, scarcely achieving measurable progress in underride safety,” the groups state in their petition. “Setting an unreasonably low standard for underride safety will diminish market demand for strong underride guards as compliance can now be achieved with substandard guards.”
The groups also point out that the rule acknowledges the cost differential of readily available guards meeting IIJA’s requirements ranges between $100-$1,000 — “a fraction of the cost to purchase and maintain” a commercial truck.
The safety group’s petition follows an announcement earlier this month that Cliff is leaving NHTSA to head the California Air Resources Board. Advocates called the absence of a Senate-confirmed leader at the agency “deeply concerning at a time when traffic fatalities have climbed to historically high levels,” and urged President Joe Biden to “swiftly nominate a new administrator to fill this important role.”
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