Feds evaluating safety of truck underride guards

INDIANAPOLIS - The federal government is taking action following a Call 6 Investigation into underride guards.

Underride guards are the metal barriers on the back of most large trucks designed to keep drivers from sliding underneath during a crash.

Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney has learned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has initiated a rulemaking process to evaluate options for enhancing the safety of rear impact guards on big trucks.

The decision by NHTSA comes in response to a petition from Marianne Karth, who lost two daughters in an underride crash, and the Truck Safety Coalition.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is deeply committed to improving large truck safety,” a NHTSA spokesperson said in a statement to Kenney. “NHTSA is looking into potential improvements based on its field analysis, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s tests, international standards, input from stakeholders and other data that may inform potential changes to existing federal safety standards – including enhanced rear-impact guard requirements. “

During 2011, large truck rear impacts comprised 19 percent of the fatal two-vehicle collisions between large trucks and passenger vehicles, according to the Truck Safety Coalition.

Marianne Karth told Kenney the decision won’t bring back her daughters, but it will hopefully save lives.

“It’s going to be a long process, and this is just the first hurdle,” said Karth. “But it’s a significant hurdle.”

Karth contacted the Call 6 Investigators after researching and finding Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney's story on the issue.

“Right now it’s safer to hit a brick wall than to run into the back of a truck,” said Karth. “(The federal government) seems to be taking this very seriously.”

A three-month investigation by the Call 6 Investigators revealed federal standards for underride guards may not be enough to keep motorists safe.

Karth was driving on Interstate 20 in Georgia with three of her children when police say a truck hit them, spinning their car backward and pushing it underneath a semi-truck.

Karth's daughters AnnaLeah, 17, and Mary, 13, were both killed.

In 2011, 260 people were killed when they crashed into the rears of trucks, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which has been pushing the federal government to adopt tougher standards for underride guards.

“IIHS applauds NHTSA’s action on this petition,” said IIHS spokesperson Kristin Nevels in an email to RTV6. “Our crash tests have shown that requiring underride guards that are strong enough to remain in place during a crash would save lives.”

The trucking industry and manufacturers are not sure stricter federal regulations are needed – especially since many are voluntarily using tougher underride guards.

“Underride guards are helpful in reducing the impact of cars crashing into trucks. We would however much prefer to see NHTSA focus on providing automobiles with the capability of preventing cars crashing into trucks,” said Ted Scott, director of engineering for the American Trucking Associations, Inc. “Crash or collision avoidance technology can go a long in helping to eliminate rear end crashes. Educating automobile drivers on how to share the road with a truck is also very helpful in reducing rear end collisions.”

Jeff Sims, president of the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, said TTMA supports the review.

"TTMA has informed NHTSA that the vast majority of trailers manufactured in the US already exceed the Canadian strength standards," Sims said. "TTMA looks forward to reviewing NHTSA’s latest analysis and any specific proposals it may present to revise the rear impact guard standards."

It’s unclear how long the rulemaking process will take, but safety advocates anticipate it will be years before anything is implemented.

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