NTSB calls for the sort of so-called bicycle guards used on trucks, trailers in Europe

April 16, 2014

The National Transportation Safety Board on April 3 issued seven recommendations urging the National Highway Safety Administration to take action to improve the safety of tractor-trailers. It should be noted that NTSB just makes recommendations; it has no authority to write regulations.

These recommendations stem from a 2013 NTSB safety study on single-unit trucks, as well as other research that reportedly identified issues that apply to tractor-trailers.

"Millions of large trucks travel our roadways every day, transporting goods and keeping the American economy moving," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A P Hersman. "But research shows that eliminating blind spots and underride events would reduce fatalities and injuries involving other road users."

Like large single-unit trucks, tractor-trailer rigs may have blind spots that can reduce the ability of drivers to see other vehicles and road users, according to NTSB. Researchers said found that a limited field of view can increase the risk of death or injury among passenger vehicle occupants, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists when drivers of tractor-trailer units change lanes, make turns, go straight, or back up.

Collisions with the sides of tractor-trailers resulted in about 500 deaths each year and that many of these deaths involved side underride, according to NTSB. It should be noted that most of these accidents are initiated by a motorist hitting a tractor-trailer rig. Researchers also found that current trailer rear underride guard standards are outdated.

The recommendations call on NHTSA to require that both newly manufactured truck-tractors and trailers be equipped with side underride protection systems, and that revisions be made to improve trailer rear underride guard standards to better protect passenger vehicle occupants from fatalities and serious injuries. The side underride guards used in Europe and other geographic often can’t do much more than deflect a glancing blow, but they do add weight.

Finally, the NTSB asked NHTSA to address the issue of data collection on trailers. When a tractor-trailer gets into an accident, police officers routinely record basic information about the truck-tractor component of the tractor-trailer, including the model year and vehicle identification number. However, information about the trailer component is usually missing from federal and state databases.

Having this information could help with evaluation of safety standards and determine whether certain trailer designs and equipment should be altered to reduce injury risks to passenger vehicle occupants. Therefore, the NTSB recommends that NHTSA add information on trailer model year and trailer vehicle identification numbers to its national database of fatal crashes and encourage states to add trailer information to their crash databases.

The complete safety recommendation letter to NHTSA is available at: http://www.ntsb.gov/doclib/recletters/2014/H-14-001-007.pdf