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NHTSA Studies Need for 18-Wheeler Side Underride Guards

Yellow and white 18-wheeler on a desert road.

Federal transportation officials recently announced that they intend to impose stronger safety regulations on truckers, as instructed by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to address a growing crisis of deadly truck accidents that have increased 48% over the last decade. But one proposed and much-needed safety measure already appears to be in jeopardy. 

According to a report in Land Line Magazine, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will take its time — a year’s worth, in fact — to determine whether or not it will require side underride guards on 18-wheelers and other large trucks. 

Side Guard Rulemaking Will Wait Until October 2024 at Earliest 

Underride truck crashes occur when a smaller vehicle slides beneath the rear of a big rig or under the side of its trailer.  These are some of the most horrific collisions on the road, often decapitating, killing, or severely injuring victims as a car’s roof is likely to shear off upon impact, and comprising over 5% of all deadly truck accidents each year.  

The National Transporation Safety Board and safety advocates have long pushed for stronger underride regulations for both rear and side guards to help prevent these gruesome accidents, but little has been done in decades. 

In April 2023, the NHTSA notified the public that it would study side underride guards on trailers while mulling over any potential rulemaking in accordance with the Infrastructure bill.  Since then, the roadway safety agency has launched a 16-member advisory committee to provide recommendations on underride protections and also solicited comments from the public during a four-month window that closed in July 2023.   

Now the NHTSA intends to take until October 2024 to review the 2,000+ comments they received. Only then will they consider making a decision on the future of a side guard rule that many believe should have been put in place years ago. 

400 Died in Underride Collisions in 2021 

Federal regulations require tractor-trailers to have rear underride guards that can withstand the force of a crash.  But when it comes to side guards, federal requirements do not exist and have been shot down repeatedly by congress and federal regulators alike, despite NHTSA’s very own research suggesting that more than 400 underride collisions occurred in 2021 alone. Hundreds of these crashes are caused by a vehicle colliding with the side of a truck every year, per analysis by a 2023 ProPublica investigation. 

In fact, ProPublica found that NHTSA and other government officials have failed to take even simple steps to prevent these accidents for decades, ignoring credible scientific research about underride collisions and often deferring to the interests of the trucking industry. Legislation that would require semis and other heavy trucks to have some sort of side guard was introduced in the senate three times since 2017, but never made it out of committee. 

Even with safety advocates pushing harder than ever for change, the NHTSA has released preliminary research on side guards that it says indicates the annual cost of a mandate would be as much $1.2 billion, while saving fewer than 20 lives each year. These numbers simply don’t add up. 

It is well known that the number of annual underride collisions is wildly underrepresented due to the many inconsistencies between local law enforcement agencies and their methods of reporting on truck accidents. Our undefeated truck accident attorneys are also dumbfounded by what appears to be the NHTSA’s complete disregard for the value of American lives. 

Trucking Industry Fighting Hard to Stop ANY Side Guard Rules 

Side guard technology has already been developed and is readily available, but the trucking industry refuses to adopt it, citing costs and challenges that amount to nothing more than wanting to continue putting profits over safety.  The technology at issue—steel guards mounted to the sides of trucks—is relatively simple and according to a former NHTSA staffer interviewed by ProPublica: “The costs are small.”  

The same, big trucking companies that rely on overworked, inexperienced drivers, neglected vehicle  maintenance, and other reckless tactics have worked hard to block federal regulations and to hide and bury crucial safety evidence involving underride collisions. Their efforts to blame victims after these horrendous, deadly accidents shows they will stop at nothing to get their way — and that includes lobbying Washington to keep slashing regulations aimed at stopping entirely-preventable truck accidents. 

Until these companies are reined in by stronger federal regulations, nothing will change.  

Texas Truck Accident Attorneys: Call us Today at 1-888-603-3636. 

Our Truck Accident Lawyers continue to follow the progress of proposed federal safety measures on underride guards and more crash avoidance technology and will continue to update you with more information. 

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