Could a side underride mandate be imminent?

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For years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has mandated the installation of rear underride guards as a means of protecting the public from catastrophic collisions with commercial vehicles. Rear underride guards help protect motorists who accidentally strike the back end of a commercial trailer.

By contrast, side underride guards serve as a way of protecting vehicles from sliding under the size of the trailer between the axles. These safety measures are only mandated on vehicles crossing the border into Canada but are not currently a requirement here in the United States. However, that could potentially change.

A side underride policy has been under consideration for years

Safety activists, including individuals who lost family members in side underride crashes, have lobbied for lawmakers to change the requirements for years, and it now appears that the FMCSA has started to take their requests seriously. The NHTSA provided advance notice of the rule it has begun considering in April, 2023. The organization opened the process to feedback while outlining the basis for the proposed rule. The NHTSA suggested the proposed rule would save more than 17 lives each year and prevent nearly 70 serious injuries.

What might this policy change mean for motor carriers?

Obviously, an obligation to install a pair of side underride guards on every trailer will impose a significant cost on Transportation companies. Additionally, changing policy that has future compliance deadlines might leave carriers open to lawsuits and legal claims if they do not adopt the use of the side underride guards immediately and a crash occurs before the company installs the mandated guards.

There is a divide within the transportation sector itself. Many point to initial investment costs and increased fuel expenses as a sure sign this change will cost companies money. Others point to the catastrophic costs associated with fatal crash claims and wrongful death lawsuits to show how preventing fatal crashes can also be a financially savvy move.

It remains to be seen if the FMCSA will adopt a rule mandating side underride guards, but transportation companies must remain aware of the possibility of major regulatory changes in the future. Preparing for changing fleet requirements may help transportation companies remain solvent and reduce the financial liability generated by their business operations.