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.
Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed plans to roll back emissions rules that govern gliders (trucks that have been built out of both new and remanufactured parts). These vehicles cost about twenty-five percent less than a new semi, but they are often built with outdated equipment that does not meet EPA standards. The Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) Phase 2 Rule was a product of lengthy negotiations between regulators, car manufacturers, and leaders in the trucking industry. The rule was meant to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from buses and diesel trucks. Because of the practice of equipping gliders with old parts to keep costs down, this rule would phase out the production of such vehicles.
This decision has split the trucking industry– the bigger companies like Mack and Volvo are strictly against the repealing of the rule, while smaller companies are all for it. Large vehicle manufacturers have spent the last decade or so developing new equipment and technology to control and limit truck emissions, and they do not want their investments undercut. Smaller companies, however, are in favor of tossing the rule so they do not have to buy brand new trucks. GHG, Phase 2 was created as a compromise for both bigger and smaller companies, but it appears that they are unwilling to do so.
The EPA estimated that around ten thousand glider kits were produced in 2016, whereas a little over two-hundred and fifty thousand new semis were sold. Perhaps the problem is not with smaller companies being edged out by the bigger manufacturers, but with the rule itself. Many smaller glider manufacturers believe that they are being targeted by the EPA. Others claim that the rule did not discriminate against gliders, but only makes sure that everyone is complying with the rules. Glider companies are able, for the most part, to rebuild semis and make sure that they are compliant with the new rule. They just do not seem to want to because of the higher cost. As the new rules stands now, gliders would not be subjected to regulation because they are not considered “new” vehicles.
Once the final rule is posted, proponents and opponents of the rule will have sixty days to legally challenge it. Meaning that environmental groups can petition to keep the rule, or glider companies could file a lawsuit if they are not exempt. Spokespeople on both sides have expressed their disappointment and almost guaranteed that there will be legal actions taken.