NHTSA Issues New Rules To Prevent Truck Underride Accidents

The new rules to prevent truck underride accidents calls for new rear bumper guard designs meant to prevent passenger compartment intrusion, which can result in decapitations and other severe and potentially deadly injuries.

Federal highway safety officials have released a series of new rules which require tractor trailer and commercial trucks to be outfitted with rear bumper guards, as part of an effort to reduce the risk of truck underride accidents, which cause serious and often life-threatening injuries for individuals riding in lower vehicles.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final rule on truck rear impact protection last month, updating two Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which will require rear underride guards on trailers and semi-trailers to improve protection for drivers and passengers in light vehicles in the event of a rear underride crash.

Truck accidents involving passenger vehicles that strike the rear-end of a tractor trailer at 30 miles per hour or more can have devastating consequences, often causing severe injuries to the drivers and front seat passengers’ heads and upper torsos if their vehicle goes under the rear of the truck.

Experts warn there is almost always passenger compartment intrusion (PCI) in an underride accident, as the vehicle slides under the trailer. If the passenger compartment is impacted, it is extremely dangerous and a major cause of fatalities, sometimes even resulting in occupant decapitation, according to the NHTSA.

The NHTSA’s data analysis indicates that, of the 400 deaths recorded from underride accidents each year, about 125 of them involve passenger compartment intrusion.

The new truck underride protection rules will require the rear impact guards on trailers and semi-trailers to have sufficient strength and energy absorption to protect occupants of passenger vehicles across multiple crash scenarios.

Along with the rear guard requirements, NHTSA announced it will be assembling a Federal underride protection advisory committee, which will be responsible for researching side underride guards for trailers and semi-trailers to assess their effectiveness, feasibility, benefits, costs, and impact on intermodal operations.

The committee will also be tasked with improving data collection of underride crashes, which officials stated often go underreported due to variability in state and local data collection.

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“This new rule will improve protection for passengers and drivers of passenger vehicles while also meeting a critical mandate from Congress under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Administrator.

The new rule was previously outlined in the Department of Transportation’s 2022 National Roadway Safety Strategy and was listed as a requirement in the trillion dollar Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year by the Biden-Harris Administration. While the rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register, the NHTSA will take a 45 day period after publication to review challenges to the final rule. Once the rule has passed, a compliance date of two years will be enforced.

Rear underride protection has been a concern of the NHTSA since 2015, when the agency issued the first notice of proposed rulemaking (PDF) which sought to add the two new regulations requiring tractor trailers to be equipped with more robust rear impact guards.

However, after no progress was made on the proposed rulemaking, New York Senator Charles E. Schumer led an attempt to pass new legislation with bipartisan support titled, Stop Underrides Act of 2017, which would have required underride guards on the sides and front of a large trucks. Although the legislation was introduced to the Senate in December 2017, the Bill failed to progress in the heavily divided Senate.

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