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Government Goes Easy On Tractor Trailer Safety Regulations

Is our government missing a chance to fix a solvable safety problem?


Torque News has been covering the safety issues related to tractor trailer underride accidents for many years. When we checked in last, we reported that the Institute For Highway Safety had concluded a study on this type of accidents and had determined a solution was at hand. Unfortunately, NHTSA and the federal government are heading towards an easy decision that will improve safety slightly when the group could have made more substantive changes.

Underride accidents are particularly deadly because cars and other passenger vehicles that strike the rear of parked tractor trailers really have no protection against such an impact. Since the front of the vehicle goes under the rear of trailer there is no crash structure to protect occupants. Trailers do have a set of angle-steel bars that come down below the trailer to provide an impact-point for cars, but they are mostly window dressing. The bars fold up under the trailer, and the car is destroyed, often killing the occupants in the car.

Canada has slightly tougher standard for the safety structure under trailers and the U.S. is headed towards adopting those standards. Though a good step, IIHS has found that there are better ways to design the safety structure at the rear of trailers. "We had hoped for a more a meaningful upgrade to the outdated standard for rear underride guards," says Adrian Lund, IIHS president. "As written, this proposal will have a minimal impact on safety. We urge NHTSA not to miss the opportunity to address a wider range of rear underride crashes."

The image above shows one of the designs that IIHS found does work and does offer protection to vehicle occupants that strike the rear of parked trailers at speeds up to 35 MPH. For more information on the subject, please check out IIHS’ website.

Image courtesy of IIHS.


Ron Melancon (not verified)    March 29, 2016 - 10:06PM

If they go easy on this then it's no wounder that they do not address utility trailers....

Tow trailers need
safety standards
Editor, Times-Dispatch:
Washington politicians have witnessed more than 18,000 deaths since 1975 by passenger cars with tow trailers. Additionally, more than 750,000 people have been injured and there have been more than 1 million incidences of total property destruction.
The government has done next to nothing to address legitimate safety concerns. It has refused to answer any questions as to why 10 deaths caused by defective airbags are deemed a national emergency but the more than 18,000 deaths caused by homemade trailers and defective equipment such as hitches, safety chains, rims, tires and lights are met with silence.
There is no national safety standard for trailers. Additionally, seven states have no safety chain laws. In some states, you could tow a trailer with duct tape and never get pulled over. Twelve states have no requirement to register trailers. Why are there no national safety standards for farmers who conduct hayrides?
Do-nothing lawmakers and safety advocates in Washington need to be fired by the families and supporters of those who have suffered so much.
Ron J. Melancon.
Glen Allen.

John Goreham    March 30, 2016 - 9:56AM

In reply to by Ron Melancon (not verified)

Ron, I agree 110% with your point. I will keep an eye out for any personal-trailer related statistics I can find and do a story on that topic if I can. Here in New England during the spring and fall the highways are littered with trailers with flat tires (and no spares) and trailers that have detached from the tow vehicle and overturned or crashed causing backups and unsafe situations. I assume these are mostly the occasional users who "Just need to get the boat to..." once in a while. So they let the trailer become unsafe since they only use it a couple times per year. One last rant: Seeing a pickup towing a trailer pass me in the left lane speeding boils my blood. Thanks for your comment.