As a truck driver you want to get to your destination safely, and you want others driving alongside you to be safe, as well. The last thing you want to happen is for a passenger car vehicle to slide up under your tractor-trailer, which often leads to a fatality. Yet this happens every day, resulting in hundreds of highway fatalities. What if there were safety devices that could prevent this from happening? Would you want to use them on your big rig? More importantly, is the federal government going to add the use of side guards to the growing list of regulations required by the truck driving industry?
Use of Side Guards for Safety
If you are a truck driver operating independently or as a company driver for companies like Bridger Transportation, Mercer Transportation, and RW Earhart, then your safe driving is your lifeline. Accidents and fatalities will cause you to get sidelined and possibly lose your CDL, as well as your truck driving jobs. Keeping your rig on the road is vital for everyone involved including the customers you are delivering to and for. So perhaps the use of side guards for safety isn’t such a bad idea. After all, side guards are used by almost all big rigs in Europe.
The application of a side guard involves plastic or fiberglass guards that are affixed to the backside of a big rig underneath each side of the trailer. These guards prevent cars from getting sideswiped when a semi makes a right turn, as well as due to under-ride collisions. In addition to cars getting hit by big trucks, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists are also susceptible to the dangers of the undercarriage of semi trailers. Adding these side guards along with reflective tape could help reduce such accidents and prevent deaths.
Cons of Side Guards
Yet there are several reasons why side guards are not put into action. According to the truck driving industry side guards aren’t cost effective. This could be due to a lack of US manufacturers of these safety devices for semis. Obviously they are being used in Europe, so somebody’s making these devices. Yet for the already burdened trucking industry this could be a main reason why getting side guards for the millions of US truck drivers is not feasible at this time.
Furthermore, these guards add dangerous weight to the trailer to which they are attached, while also weakening some areas of the trailer itself. For truckers who are already pushing their weight limits to the max to make more money, these guards cut into pay rates as well.
Additionally, the Department of Transportation has been considering the use of side guards since the 1960s. After all, if they can prevent nine of 10 fatalities due to collisions caused by under riding, this could be a major plus to trucker safety. So what’s the hold up here?
Federal Take on Side Guards for Semis
According to safety advocates side guards aren’t being used because there are truck driving company advocates that don’t want to use them, plain and simple. The cost of adding these guards to trucks, as well as the maintenance, is what’s holding up progress here. But is this true?
As we have seen time and time again, it doesn’t generally matter what kind of money needs to be spent on safety regulations and compliance. Take the latest industry regulation in the works, those electronic logging devices or ELDs. They are going to cost truckers and trucking companies thousands of dollars to get installed and to maintain ongoing. The cost isn’t a factor for this safety regulation, so surely it’s not the bottom line for why side guards aren’t being required.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s former leader Joan Claybrook states, “[Side guard use] would safe a lot of lives, but the trucking industry opposes it. The trucking industry gives a huge amount of money to members of Congress.” This is the case in many instances, such as the $731,500 sent to Chairman John Thune by the trucking industry over the last five years. But could this really be the reason why side guards aren’t being required by regulators?
The Trucking Alliance is one of the biggest trucking industry safety advocate groups out there. Their board does not mention side guards as part of the alliance’s mission statement. While e-logging devices and new truck driver safety training is included on their to-do list, they simply haven’t gotten around to pushing for side guards. This could be because the research hasn’t been done, or there may be a lack of quality and affordable vendors for side guards in the US.
If the safety advocate groups are interested in requiring side guards, it looks like they will have to form their own lobbyist groups to make headway in this regulatory request. At the same time, it’s not the greatest season to try to get new regulations passed given Trump’s promise to deregulate industries across the board.