The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Road Safety Advisory Committee is tasked with finding ways to reduce road crashes.
Truck safety groups are proponents of a side protection mandate that aims to prevent cars from traveling under a tractor-trailer during a crash.
However, at least some committee members have raised concerns about the potential unintended consequences of requiring side guards.
Jeff Bennett, who represents motor vehicle engineers on the committee, gave a presentation on rear fenders during the committee’s meeting on Thursday, February 8. He used the data available on the backs to express concerns about the jumping potential of the backs. the car turns into traffic and causes a multi-vehicle collision.
“All of the trailer’s rear impact guards that passed the 30% offset crash test caused the crashing car to leave its lane of traffic,” Bennett said. “And where I come from, there are always cars in the other lanes.”
Doug Smith, an OIODA board member who is the sole trucker representative on the committee, also expressed concerns about the unintended consequences.
“Rebound accidents are an important consideration,” Smith said, noting that concrete barriers and guard rails are intended to stop vehicles. “The design is based on cars not backing into traffic, so that’s an important consideration and not something to dismiss.”
Committee members who are advocating for mandatory side guards argue that the guard restrictions will be mitigated by other technology mandates.
Lee Jackson, a crash investigator who was appointed chairman of the committee at its most recent meeting, said checkpoints will have a higher success rate if automatic emergency braking systems are also mandated.
“No one expects there to be a 70 mph impact and the passengers walk away unscathed,” Jackson said. “That’s just not realistic, but that’s why I’ve said many times that we have to have a good rear guard and a good side guard that work in harmony with automatic braking.”
Research and data
Current regulations specify requirements for rear impact guards on trailers, but there are no federal requirements for side guards.
NHTSA estimates that a waived mandate for all trailers and semitrailers would save 17.2 lives and reap up to $166 million in safety benefits annually. Meanwhile, the annual cost of the mandate would be up to $1.2 billion.
The resulting cost per equivalent life saved would fall in the range of $73.5 million to $103.7 million. The analysis did not include any effect of side fenders on port and loading dock and cargo capacity. It did not consider modifications to infrastructure, maintenance, or the practicability and feasibility of intermodal operations for trailers equipped with sidewalls.
What is a consensus?
The subcommittee meeting on Thursday, February 8 was its third. The committee is also scheduled to meet on March 13, April 24 and May 22.
After the meetings are completed, the committee is tasked with providing NHTSA consensus recommendations to reduce crashes and fatalities.
The committee, which has been largely divided over whether mandating side guards would help the cause, spent considerable time at its last meeting debating what constitutes a consensus.
Members who are mainly proponents of a mandate argued that a simple majority would suffice as consensus, while others – mainly those against the mandate – argued that a consensus should be defined as at least 75% of the committee.
In a dispute, the simple majority then voted to decide that a simple majority meets the definition of a consensus. LL