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Advocacy groups to NHTSA: Reconsider ‘fatally flawed’ final rule on ‘underride’ guards for large trucks

back of truck
Photo: kozmoat98/iStockphoto

Washington — A pair of advocacy groups are calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to reconsider a final rule aimed at strengthening protections for drivers and passengers in light vehicles involved in “underride” crashes, which occur when vehicles strike the rear of large trucks and slide underneath.

In a petition dated Aug. 25 and addressed to then-NHTSA administrator Steven Cliff and agency chief counsel Ann Carlson, the Truck Safety Coalition and the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety claim NHTSA’s final rule – set to go into effect Jan. 11 – is “fatally flawed.” The groups write that NHTSA “failed to consider relevant available data” and results of testing on underride guards.

The rule, mandated under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, updates Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards by adopting the provisions of a Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that requires “rear impact guards with sufficient strength and energy absorption capability to protect occupants of compact and subcompact passenger cars impacting the rear of trailers at 35 mph,” NHTSA says.

Under the rule, NHTSA will:

  • Publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to consider requirements for side underride guards for crashes into the sides of trailers and semitrailers.
  • Improve data collection of underride crashes by recommending inclusion of underride data in state crash data systems.
  • Complete research on rear impact guard designs that better protect occupants of passenger vehicles in additional rear underride crash scenarios.

The groups, however, contend that the rule falls short of a provision in the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act mandating tighter standards on underride guards. They note in the petition that 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.”

In a press release, coalition board member Jennifer Tierney, whose father died in an underride crash, says “the rule is exasperating and heartbreaking” and urges the Department of Transportation and NHTSA to take “immediate action to improve the rule to protect all road users and prevent future needless tragedies.”

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