Safety and security initiatives are at the forefront of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s rulemaking initiatives. Below is a look at a few of the most recent updates related to safety regulations.
Rear Impact Guards
Rear impact guards on commercial motor vehicles are designed to prevent “underrides,” which occur when a passenger vehicle strikes the rear of a commercial motor vehicle and slides underneath. Though rear impact guards have been required on commercial motor vehicles for more than 65 years, they had not been included in the mandatory inspections required of commercial motor vehicles. Recently in 2021, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration amended the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to include rear impact guards on the list of items that must be examined as part of the required annual inspection for each commercial motor vehicle. For commercial motor vehicles that fail to pass inspection due to violations related to rear impact guards, fines may be assessed, but the commercial motor vehicle will not be placed out of service. The implementation of rear impact guards as part of annual inspections can identify whether components are missing, damaged, or improperly constructed. Identifying rear impact guards that are out of compliance through annual inspection can aid with commercial motor vehicle safety.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that underride occurs in approximately 50% of fatal crashes between commercial motor vehicles and passenger vehicles. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, between 1994 and 2004, 4,006 people died in accidents involving an underride of a commercial motor vehicle. Studies conducted by the IIHS suggest that strong side underride guards could reduce the risk of injury or death in approximately 75% of side impact accidents between passenger vehicles and commercial motor vehicles.
Due to the significant risk of serious injury or death resulting from underride accidents, European commercial vehicle safety standards require that all large commercial vehicles have rear, side, and front underride guards. However, under current United States federal law, commercial vehicles are required to have only rear underride guards; there is no requirement under US federal law that commercial vehicles have side or front underride guards.
In March 2021, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Burr (R-NC) and U.S. Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) reintroduced the Stop Underrides Act, which was initially introduced in December 2017. The bill would have required underride guards on the sides and fronts of all new trucks and would have updated the standards for underride guards on the rear of trucks. The bill did not pass and for now, commercial vehicles are only required to have rear underride guards.
Speed limiters on commercial motor vehicles have been a topic of discussion in the transportation industry for nearly a decade. Despite being a longstanding topic of discussion, it was not until August 26, 2016, that two agencies within the Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, published a proposal that all commercial vehicles with a gross weight of 26,000 pounds be equipped with a speed limiting device. A speed limiter would, at all times, prevent equipped vehicles from exceeding a particular pre-set speed setting. Under the proposal, three distinct speed settings were recommended: 60, 65, and 68 mph.
Despite the anticipated benefits of implementing a rule requiring speed limiters, such as fuel cost savings, reduction in severity of accidents involving commercial vehicles and the resulting injuries, reducing the number of fatalities resulting from accidents involving commercial vehicles, and reducing the amount of wear and tear on commercial vehicles, the speed limiter proposal has garnered its fair share of criticism within the commercial trucking industry. As such, the speed limiter proposal has come to a standstill. It is unknown if or when, a speed limiter mandate may go into effect, as the Department of Transportation has moved speed limiters to its “long-term” agenda item list. On April 27, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it was putting the stalled rulemaking back into gear by working up a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking and inviting comments from fleets. FMCSA plans to publish the supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking about speed limiters sometime in 2023.
Amendments to Hazmat Safety Permits
On July 6, 2021, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gave notice that it proposed amendments to its Hazardous Materials Safety Permits regulations to incorporate by reference the updated Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance Handbook from April 1, 2021. The handbook contains inspection procedures and out-of-service criteria for inspections and shipments of transuranic waste and controlled quantities of radioactive material. The changes are intended to ensure clarity in the presentation of out-of-service conditions.
Under 49 CFR 385.415, motor carriers transporting hazardous materials for which a permit is required are obligated to abide by certain operational requirements. Section 385.415(b) requires that motor carriers ensure a pre-trip inspection is performed on each motor vehicle to be used to transport a highway route-controlled quantity of a Class 7 (radioactive) material, in accordance with the requirements of CVSA’s handbook. Nearly 97 percent of the Level I – Level VI inspections conducted between 2015 and 2019 were Level I, Level II and Level III. The Level VI inspections only comprised 0.02% of all inspections. Statistics show that out-of-service violations are cited in a far lower percentage of Level VI inspections than Level I, II, and III inspections. This is due largely to the enhanced oversight and inspection of these vehicles because of the sensitive nature of the cargo. FMCSA does not expect the changes made in the 2021 edition of the CVSA Handbook to affect the number of out-of-service violations cited during Level VI inspections.
Written by associate Marni Sperling.