On February 20, 2018, Senate Minority Leader Charles (Chuck) Schumer (D-NY) again called on Congress to pass the Stop Underrides Act of 2017 at a press event where he was joined by the family of Edward Torres—one of those who died following a 75-car pileup on I-90 near Buffalo, New York just two days into the New Year.
“This was a preventable tragedy,” Senator Schumer said. “If trucks had protective barriers . . . [the victim’s] car would not have gone under the truck.” The barriers Senator Schumer are referring to are called “underride guards,” protective add-ons designed to mitigate the dangers of side collisions with tractor-trailers.
Back in December, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bipartisan bill that would require new front, rear, and side underride guards on tractor-trailers. There are other direct safety benefits that would be gained from such legislation. For example, the group is calling for an update to rear underride guards as well—while such a similar safety measure has been mandatory for all trailers since 1953, the requirements of design have not been updated since 1998.
In a February 2017 story, NBC News reported that—despite a strong endorsement from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)—underride guards are still not required safety features on the sides of tractor-trailers. The report also pointed out that over 200 people die in side impacts with tractor-trailers every year, a statistic that does not go unnoticed by the mother of one victim who met such a fate. “If there was a plane crash and 200 people died, the government would be all over that,” declared Lois Durso, who lost her 26-year-old daughter in 2005 to an underride event.
In opposition of the bill, big trucking lobbyists, including organizations such as the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association (TTMA) and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), who claim that such legislation will result in added cost to independent truckers and small carriers who have already been beleaguered by ongoing issues. Additionally, these groups claim that the use of such sideguards is untested and unproven—even though much of Europe and elsewhere have required such side underride safety measures for years.
To this, Schumer has responded that the desired change would be three-pronged: require trucks to be equipped with side and front underride guards; update the rear underride guard standard; and study and review underride standards on a routine basis. While the Stop Underrides Act of 2017 has yet to reach the House and Senate, it is hoped that Schumer’s renewed support may provide the much-needed push to get the bill passed into law.