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Feds release truck safety proposal

The federal agency that administers the nation's highway safety program on Friday released advance notice of proposed rules aimed at improving single unit truck, or SUT, safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will accept comments from the general public and from transportation industry stakeholders concerning the "benefits, costs and other impacts" of two proposed crash protection requirements for single unit trucks:

  • Upgraded SUT "underride crash protection" or rear impact guards
  • The addition of visibility-enhancing "retroreflective material" on the rear and sides of SUTs that is now required to be placed on the rear and sides of trailers

The NHTSA estimates that rear impact guards would cost about $669 million to equip around 342,000 vehicles. The reflective tape would cost about $30 million annually, the agency estimates, to outfit about 579,000 SUTs.

Of course, federal officials emphasize that it is the human cost of accidents involving SUTs that needs to be reduced.

"This announcement is about protecting more drivers and passengers," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. "These vehicles are essential to [the] transportation system, and we have a duty to the traveling public to take every opportunity to strengthen truck safety."

Increasing visibility is the key, the agency's director added.

"If we can raise the public's awareness of large trucks and help trucks be more visible to others on the road, we can reduce the number of fatalities and injuries in underride crashes - or prevent these crashes from happening in the first place," NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said.

The agency described single unit trucks as vehicles "with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds with no trailer," adding that they are "primarily straight trucks, in which the engine, cab, drive train, and cargo area are mounted on one chassis." SUTs include dump trucks, garbage haulers, concrete mixers, tank trucks, trash trucks, and local delivery trucks.

The government defines rear underride crashes as those "in which the front end of a vehicle impacts the rear of a generally larger vehicle, and slides under the chassis of the rear-impacted vehicle." Crashes involving passenger compartment intrusion, or PCI, can be particularly devastating because "the passenger vehicle underrides so far that the rear end of the struck vehicle strikes and enters the passenger compartment."

The agency in 2009 initiated a study of the characteristics and contributory factors of underride crashes. The study incorporated SUT data from 2008 and 2009.

The federal "advance notice of proposed rulemaking," as the agency calls it, points out, "Among the types of vehicles that impacted the rear of trailers and SUTs, 73 percent were light vehicles, 18 percent were large trucks, 7.4 percent were motorcycles, and 1.7 percent were other/unknown vehicle types."

The study determined, "Among light vehicle occupant fatalities in impacts into the rear of SUTs, approximately 70 percent were in vehicles with no underride, underride less than halfway or underride up to the hood without PCI..." Hence, the agency reasoned, "some light vehicle occupant fatalities in impacts into the rear of SUTs and trailers at speeds less than or equal to 56 km/h (35 mph) that resulted in PCI may be preventable if intrusion into the passenger compartment were mitigated."

The public and the transportation industry will have a chance to weigh in on safety proposals, and the regulatory process will take its course. Nevertheless, another process takes place when someone is involved in an accident involving a truck that was not caused by the driver of the smaller vehicle.

When drivers of light vehicles and motorcycles are involved in an accident with a truck, the sheer size of the truck is enough to cause serious injury or death to the motorists operating smaller vehicles. Those injuries can require expensive and even long-term medical treatment. Sometimes the result is permanent disability.

Investigating the cause and nature of the crash and estimating the compensation should be left up to truck accident attorneys with specialized expertise in handling these types of personal injury cases and with a laudable track record of aggressive and effective legal representation. The truck accident attorneys at Reich & Binstock are a viable option.

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