Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking aimed at upgrading standards for underride protection in trailers and semi-trailers. NHTSA is looking to make the standards more stringent to improve underride protection in higher speed crashes. Although many trailers currently sold would be compatible with this new more stringent standard, the annual estimated incremental cost to ensure compliance of every trailer and semitrailer in the U.S. is $13 million dollars.
There is universal agreement safer equipment is in the best interests of everyone on the roads. In addition, from a risk-management perspective, underride accidents can be some of the most significant accident litigation insurers and trucking companies are forced to deal with. If the speeds involved are high enough (also known as an excessive underride crash), a passenger vehicle rear ending a trailer can result in the rear of the trailer or semitrailer entering the passenger compartment of the vehicle causing serious injuries or death. In many of these accidents, the operator of the truck was doing nothing wrong, likely sitting in traffic or at a light, while the operator of the passenger vehicle was not paying attention to their surroundings. No matter what the relative fault of the parties with respect to causing the accident, these accidents are likely to lead to litigation against the trucking company, with the plaintiff arguing the rear impact guard was not compliant with standards or sustained unrepaired damage. In my experience, I have never encountered a “minor” underride case. More stringent standards will place an increased burden on companies to inspect and monitor their fleet to make sure they are compliant with standards. The failure to do so could be costly.
Read more in the full NHTSA release and see the below an article I co-authored concerning rear impact guard litigation and how fleets can manage the risk. The advice in this article will continue to be of vital importance in risk management.
By Larry Hall