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Federal Regulators Could be Doing More to Prevent Underride Truck Crashes

A new study from the Government Accountability Office (GOA) suggests federal regulators aren’t doing nearly enough to prevent potentially deadly underride truck accidents.

Underride Truck Crashes are Underreported

Underride truck crashes occur when a smaller vehicle slides beneath the rear of a big rig or under the side of its trailer. Such collisions kill an average of 219 people annually, representing roughly 1% of all traffic-related fatalities and 5.4% of all trucking-related deaths.

According to the GAO study, however, underride truck crashes are most likely underreported due to inconsistencies in the way various law enforcement agencies log such accidents.

“For example, police officers responding to a crash do not use a standard definition of an underride crash and states’ crash report forms vary, with some not including a field for collecting underride data,” the agency states in its April 15th report. “Further, police officers receive limited information on how to identify and record underride crashes.”

The GAO called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to formulate a standard definition and provide law enforcement with information on identifying and documenting underride accidents.

Trucking Regulators Urged to Rethink Underride Guard Standards

Federal regulations require tractor-trailers to have rear underride guards that can withstand the force of a crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently proposed stronger rear-guard standards, and roughly 95% of all newly-manufactured trucks already meet those requirements. Yet there  is no requirement for yearly rear-guard inspections.

The GAO investigation suggested this oversight has allowed hundreds of trucks to remain on the road with damaged rear guards that could fail in a crash. The report advised the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to update its annual vehicle inspection regulations to include a requirement for rear-guard inspections.

While federal trucking regulations do not require side underride guards, the GAO also urged the NHTSA to conduct further research into their use.

“Side underride guards are being developed, but stakeholders GAO interviewed identified challenges to their use, such as the stress on trailer frames due to the additional weight,” the report states. “NHTSA has not determined the effectiveness and cost of these guards, but manufacturers told GAO they are unlikely to move forward with development without such research.”

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