Most motorists in New York are probably familiar with the guard hanging behind the wheels at the rear of tractor-trailers. If the truck stops suddenly and the passenger vehicle collides with the back of the trailer, that guard should hit the front of the car, trigger collision safety devices and prevent the car from sliding under the trailer.
Transport Topics reports that legislators fear the standards for these guards, set 23 years ago, have not done enough to prevent underride deaths. Not only that, many of the current guards do not meet those old standards. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has proposed tougher rules, and lawmakers have introduced a bill—the Stop Underrides Act—to mandate stronger guards. However, the rules and the law have yet to be accepted.
Meanwhile, according to Transport Topics, underride deaths have accounted for just over 5% of fatal semitruck crashes each year—an average of 219 deaths annually. This could be due in part to guard deficiencies. During an enforcement event in the summer of 2018, inspectors found that roughly 900 out of 10,000 trailers inspected had rear guard violations. More than half the violations involved broken, cracked or missing guards.
The NHTSA reports that Canada has stronger rear underride guard requirements, but that about 95% of the new trucks being manufactured in the United States meet these tougher standards. The problem is primarily with the older trucks on the roads.
If the new law passes, it would also require side underride guards on trailers. These aerodynamic panels span from the front wheels to the back wheels of trailers and prevent cars from sliding under in a truck jackknife or other side crash event. A few trucking companies already have these safety panels in place on their trailers.