WASHINGTON — A proposed regulation requiring that new truck trailers come equipped with side guards to prevent deadly crashes is taking more heat from safety groups and the trucking industry for using flawed analysis and being too costly to implement.

Initial sentiment on the issue from the National Transportation Safety Board and insurance groups argued that the Biden administration is severely underestimating the benefits and overestimating the costs of such a mandate, as estimated by the National Highway Safety Administration in its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) published in April.

But NHTSA is under even more pressure to either significantly revise the proposal before formally issuing a rulemaking — or shelve it entirely — now that truck safety advocates and truck industry lobbyists have weighed in.

In comments filed this week by the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) and its affiliate organizations, which advocate on behalf of truck crash victims’ families, TSC Executive Director Zach Cahalan admonished NHTSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation for dragging their feet on issuing a rule first proposed in 1969, and cited a recent documentary by Frontline and an investigative report by ProPublica.

“TSC is disgusted by DOT’s inaction and rebukes in the strongest possible terms DOT’s over half-century of inaction and inappropriate deference to the bottom-line interests of industry lobbyists,” Cahalan stated, referring to the American Trucking Associations and others.

“Untold numbers of lives have been lost with no substantive action taken by DOT to meaningfully address this known safety issue. NHTSA’s stated mission is to reduce death and injury from motor vehicle crashes, yet nothing about their historical posture toward saving lives from side underride crashes would suggest this is the case.”

Echoing assertions made in earlier comments filed by NTSB and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, TSC contends that NHTSA’s analysis minimizes the cost-effectiveness of side underride guards that have has to be addressed, including underride-related crashes that are being “severely undercounted” in current federal data.

“In addition, NHTSA did not conduct any robust side underride guard impact testing with real-world prototypes from multiple manufacturers to properly inform its analysis,” according to the group. “After 54 years, the American public deserves better and TSC respectfully requests NHTSA expediently address the shortcomings identified in this comment and issue a revised rule and accompanying analysis.”

ATA, in contrast, finds NHTSA’s cost-benefit estimates to be reasonable given data limitations available to the agency. “The result of NHTSA’s analysis is a staggering net negative annual benefit of almost $1 billion,” the group stated.

“ATA believes this result is a reasonable estimate of the costs that would be imposed by the requirement given the limitations … and the calculation is consistent with previous calculations that a mandate for side underride guards on all trailers in service would cost approximately $35 billion.”

Because it considers NHTSA’s side underride proposal to be ineffective at improving safety, the group instead encouraged the agency “to work towards the prevention of side underride crashes as part of its larger strategies for preventing roadway crashes of all types.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which also opposes mandating side guards on trailers for cost reasons, pointed out that such a requirement would also have unintended effects on truck capacity because the added weight would displace 1,000 pounds of cargo payload.

“Reallocating nearly half a ton of freight from every truck currently on the road would create a monumental loss of capacity within our industry,” according to OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer.

“To compensate for this dramatic loss, the number of trucks on American highways would surge and intensify pressure to increase minimum weight allowances for [commercial trucks]. The unintended consequences of adding more trucks on our nation’s roads could eliminate any assumed safety benefits associated with the mandated use of side underrides.”

Related articles:

NHTSA puts cost of mandatory side underride guards at up to $1.2B

NHTSA defends new standard for rear underride guards

Safety groups urge NHTSA to reconsider rear underride guard rule

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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