A measure that would mandate guard rails on truck trailers is making its way through the House and Senate. These underride guard rails would prevent cars from sliding underneath semi trucks, and would significantly reduce the amount of deaths from collisions with truck trailers. The act was introduced by Senator Gillibrand (D) of New York and Senator Rubio (R) of Florida, and the bipartisan measure is likely to pass without much push-back from Congress.
The law would require guards to be fitted to the side of trailers, as well as the front of the truck. As of now, both of these are optional. The bill also requires stronger rear guards, which have been mandatory since the mid-1950s. These guard rails are a simple solution to a big problem– the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that a little under 1,500 people die every year as a result of collisions with semis, but does not specifically state which of those were from the vehicle sliding under the trailer. In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a proposal to upgrade current impact guards, but never followed through with the plan. They sought to align U.S. standards with those in place in Canada, which are much more stringent. Their ultimate aim is to make these kinds of crashes less fatal, if not less common overall.
The new bill proposes that rear and side guards must be able to withstand an impact from a vehicle going at least 35 MPH, and would apply to truck trailers, and single-units that weigh 10,000 pounds or more.
Many tests have been conducted to prove that these panels will be able to withstand that kind of force. The manufacturer of the panels does not yet make the front panels, but is in the process of developing them. The disadvantage, however, is the cost. Two panels will put buyers back $3,000-$4,000. They also weight up to 800 pounds, which can slow down trucks and weaken the trailers.
2017 has been a big year for the trucking industry, and included a lot of changes. The year started off with a presidential issuance of a regulatory freeze, which stifled a few minor regulations that were in the works under the previous administration. The order also placed the FMCSA’s speed limiter mandate on the back-burner, but did not rescind it outright, which means that they could possibly resume work on it at any time; however, that seems unlikely. We also saw an expansion of how the DOT conducts its on-site compliance reviews with the addition of carrier and employee interviews. The FMCSA also unveiled the Crash Preventability Demonstration Program and extensive ELD exemptions. In addition to new rules, they also withdrew a couple big ones that had been highly critiqued: the Safety Fitness rule and 34-hour restart regulation. Following Hurricane Harvey, the FMCSA temporarily lifted regulations in 26 states to allow truckers to deliver goods and fuel to affected areas. Then there was, of course, the ELD mandate, which has been highly debated since its announcement. In June, the U.S. Supreme court chose not to hear a case against the DOT in regard to the mandate, and upheld the compliance date of December 18th.
The FMCSA very heavily pushed not only safety, but education as well. To help relieve some of the burden, and give the states more autonomy, they awarded over $70 million dollars in grants for states and educational facilities. These rulings along with the grants are an attempt to keep drivers and the public safe, and improve road conditions nation-wide. Keep in mind, most of the changes that were released or approved this year will not take effect until 2019, or even 2020.
Outside of the DOT, there were even more big changes. Swift and Knight, two giants in the industry, announced a merger that gave Swift shareholder 54% of the company and Knight shareholders the remaining 46%. Walmart instituted fees for both early and late deliveries. The EPA rolled back regulations on glider kit emissions. Tesla unveiled their new semi designs, which many think will revolutionize the industry. 2017 was a year filled with a lot of big changes, and I am sure 2018 will be much the same.
As we approach the second phase of the three-phase compliance time line, there has been increasing hesitancy and even full-blown refusal from those in the trucking industry. Some of the complaints are reasonable: they are worried about the high costs of the logging systems themselves, as well as the upkeep of the devices draining the resources of smaller companies and ultimately putting them out of business. The ELDs can cost anywhere from $160 to $500 and the upkeep depends on the system. If you want more information about those costs, check out this blog I wrote when the initial ruling was made. Some of the other fears, however, can easily be soothed.
The trucking industry is typically very slow to change, and most major compliance rules are met with a lot of initial push back. One concern that emerged following the ELD mandate that has snowballed within the last few weeks, is the security of the systems themselves in regard an outside person’s ability to hack into them. There are a number of people that are under the belief that because the ELDs are a computer system that monitors the activity of the engine and the brake system, that a hacker can take control of the system from outside of the vehicle. That is not quite true. ELDs, while they do operate on a computer system, do not automate the vehicle, and do not have the capability of doing so. They are completely safe to use. The FMCSA addressed this issue and many others on their FAQ page. There is no current requirement for the automation of truck-tractors, and it is unlikely that there will be any time soon. The nation, or really the world in general, cannot function without the trucking system as it currently stands, and human skills and reasoning in this area are not things that can easily be replaced by a machine. Truckers do not need to worry about ELDs subjecting them to harm or a violation of their safety. If you would like to learn more about ELDs and the FMCSA’s rule, visit their website, or check out our blog.