NHTSA proposes upgrade to safety standards for trucks

The federal agency is considering a new rule that would increase public safety by toughening standards for rear impact guards on semis.

The United States Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently issued a notice of proposed rulemaking. These notices are issued by the agency so that the public has an opportunity to comment on the proposal before it moves forward with a final rule or regulation. This specific proposal focuses on underride protection in crashes that involve light vehicles striking the back of trailers and semitrailers.

Current regulations generally require trailers and semitrailers to have underride protection, often in the form of bars. These bars, also known as rear impact guards or "DOT bumpers," are attached to the back of the trailer and hang down. These guards are designed to effectively prevent another vehicle from going underneath the trailer in the event of an accident.

Underride crashes defined

The NHTSA defines rear underride crashes as "those in which the front end of a vehicle impacts the rear of a generally larger vehicle, and slides under the rear-impacted vehicle." In some cases, this can result in the back of the truck entering the passenger compartment of the smaller vehicle. Such accidents can result in severe injuries and fatalities. Ultimately, the agency states that the proposal would require "more robust guards" that would "improve underride protection in higher speed crashes compared to current rear impact guards."

Current rear impact guard regulations

Two regulations are currently in place, designed to address the dangers of underride accidents: Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMCSS) 223 and 224. Standard 223, titled Rear Impact Guards for Trailers and Semitrailers subject to FMCSS No.224, Rear Impact Protection, describes the strength and energy absorption requirements for these guards. Standard 224, titled Rear Impact Protection – Trailers, Semitrailers with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 4,536 kg (10,000 lbs) or more, defines the size requirements and provides details on which types of trucks are required to use these devices. More specifically, it discusses the gross vehicle weight rating and excludes pole trailers, pulpwood trailers, low chassis vehicles, special purpose vehicles, wheels back vehicles and specifically defined temporary living quarters.

Impact of changes

Current regulations require the use of guards that remain in place in crashes up to 30 mph. The new proposal would increase this to 35 mph.

This is just one of many types of accidents that those who are involved in a crash with a truck can experience. If the accident is the result of the truck driver or trucking company’s negligent or reckless actions, compensation may be available to victims of the accident. Victims should contact an experienced truck accident attorney to discuss the potential for legal remedies.