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Should Trucks Have Side Underride Guards?

Safety Groups Question the NHTSA Side Underride Analysis

Federal regulations require commercial vehicle operators in Pennsylvania and around the country to install impact guards to the rear of large trucks to prevent underride accidents. These safety devices are known as “Mansfield bars” because the regulation requiring them was strengthened after the Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield was killed in an underride accident in 1967. There is no federal regulation that mandates the installation of underride guards on the sides of large commercial vehicles however, which is something that road safety advocacy groups like the Highway Loss Data Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety would like to see changed.

The NHTSA Cost-Benefit Analysis

One of the provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021, tasked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with conducting a cost-benefit analysis of requiring semi-tractor trailers to be fitted with side underride guards. The agency published its findings in April 2023. According to the NHTSA, a side underride guard mandate could cost the trucking industry as much as $1.2 billion and save only 17 lives each year. Federal safety regulations are implemented when the benefits outweigh the costs, which means the chances of side underride guards becoming mandatory equipment on large trucks are slim.

The IIHS and the HLDI Question the NHTSA’s Figures

The NHTSA’s conclusions were met with consternation by road safety groups like the IIHS and the HLDI. An IIHS senior research engineer claims that the number of lives that could be saved by requiring Mansfield bars on the sides of large commercial vehicles would be at least 10 times higher than the NHTSA estimates. These groups believe the NHTSA figures are inaccurate because agency officials relied on incomplete data and did not consider all of the lives that could be saved by side underride guards.

Vehicle Speeds

The NHTSA did not consider accidents involving passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers that occurred at speeds of more than 40 mph. This is because agency officials concluded that side underride guards would provide little or no safety benefits in these crashes. However, the IIHS believes that side underride guards could provide protection in high-speed accidents where passenger vehicles strike the sides of trucks at an angle because the impact speed is lower than the travel speed in these crashes. Safety groups also criticized the NHTSA for basing its calculations on police speed estimates and posted speed limits instead of data gathered form the black box-type devices that all large commercial vehicles are required to have. In 2021, 488 passenger vehicle occupants were killed in side-impact collisions with tractor-trailers.

Industry Groups Oppose Mandatory Side Underride Guards

The Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, which represents most of the companies that supply heavy truck trailers in the United States, believe that the NHTSA’s report overestimates the safety benefits of side underride guards. The trade group says that requiring side underride guards would increase the price of a trailer by between $3,740 and $4,630 and lead to an increase in the number of commercial vehicles on the nation’s roads. This is because the added weight of side underride guards would reduce the amount of cargo that tractor-trailers could carry. The TTMA believes that requiring commercial vehicles to be equipped with autonomous safety systems and driver assistance technology would save more lives than mandating side underride guards.

Legal Remedies

Collisions involving passenger vehicles and semi-tractor trailers often cause death or catastrophic injury. When these accidents are caused by truck driver negligence or recklessness, an Allentown personal injury lawyer could help road users who have been harmed to pursue legal remedies. An attorney could take steps to ensure that important evidence is preserved and negligent parties are held responsible for their actions. If you have been injured in a truck accident and would like to learn more about your legal options, you can schedule a consultation with an experienced Allentown personal injury lawyer by contacting Metzger & Kleiner. You can reach our Lehigh Valley office by calling (610) 435-7400, and we have an office in Philadelphia that can be reached by calling (215) 567-6616. You can also request a meeting by completing our online form.

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