Coalition gains strength

IT pays to be proactive.

At least that's the theory behind the formation of the Trailer Safety Industry Coalition (TSIC).

Reacting to concerns that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had about wheel-separation incidents on trailers, leaders of the trailer industry and its trade groups — the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers (NATM), National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA), Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), and National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) — have joined forces with major wheel, axle, and trailer manufacturers.

The immediate goal has been to conduct the industry's own investigation into wheel-attachment technology and wheel-separation issues affecting trailers under 26,000 lb GVWR and to develop a series of recommended actions, communicating them throughout the industry to eliminate or significantly reduce incidents of torque loss and wheel separation.

But that's only the beginning. TSIC hopes to aggressively pursue other issues in the future.

“I think there's a real opportunity for the trailer industry — whether it be classified as RV towables, cargo trailers, flatbeds, horse or livestock — to come together and get a strong base of folks together to address safety issues,” says co-chair Jack Klepinger, regional manager of Wells Cargo and a former NATM president. “I'm not looking at it as a specifically driven coalition. I'm looking at it as more of an opportunity for a sounding board.”

The formation of TSIC sends a strong signal to NHTSA that the industry is interested in tackling any issues before they get too complex.

“Whether you're in the private sector or public sector, if you acknowledge that you're working on issues rather than trying to sweep them under the rug, that makes a heckuva lot better impression,” Klepinger says. “It's a good, honest approach we're taking. No one wants any problems. When you have these separate little industry niches and you begin to bring associations and manufacturers and suppliers together — including the government, as far as an awareness issue is concerned — that's a significant step. To be proactive instead of reactive is a very important part of our purpose.”

Says NATM consulting engineer Dick Klein, “These are major players. Everybody's in it. Everybody has something to bring to the table. I think it's a significant thing. It's a necessary thing. We didn't have a real coalition of all the sub-bodies, all the organizations, under one roof.”

NHTSA's concerns

NHTSA preliminarily had identified such elements as inadequate torque, improper torquing, excessive paint, and poorly engineered wheel-assembly systems as potential contributing factors in wheel separations. NHTSA also had stated that it intends to pursue any company about which it receives even one consumer report of a wheel separation.

A group met last September in Washington, DC, to discuss NHTSA's concerns. About 25-30 were in attendance at the meeting, including trailer manufacturers, wheel and axle manufacturers, representatives of NATM, RVIA, and NMMA, and one representative from NHTSA.

“He pretty much let us know they were going to let us know when there was something they had a problem with,” NATM executive director Pam O'Toole says. “They're watching. They're watching closely.”

At a second meeting, NTEA was also represented. Klepinger (NATM) and Bruce Hopkins (RVIA) were chosen to co-chair the coalition, and the Technical Committee was appointed to draft recommended practices, with Ted Schorn of Enkei America Inc serving as chairman.

The Technical Committee drafted the recommended practices and presented them to the larger group, which revised and approved them.

TSIC released the list and disseminated it to vendors of components for the wheel assembly and at manufacturers of trailers and their transporters and dealers.

The next step is to discuss possible testing, the criteria, and possible cost. Meetings were scheduled for the Technical Committee on January 11 in Elkhart, Indiana, and for the coalition on January 25 in Las Vegas.

The industry groups are hoping that by coming together as one voice, they can achieve the same kind of success as the Surge Brake Coalition, which includes NATM, NMMA, American Rental Association (ARA), Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and various surge-brake manufacturers, end users, and trailer manufacturers.

The Surge Brake Coalition, co-chaired by Klepinger, submitted a petition to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on February 28, 2001, asking for a review of the 1993 ruling against surge brakes and making a case that the wording should be changed to allow surge brakes for use on certain sizes of trailers and towing-vehicle combinations.

Finally, on September 14, FMCSA decided to allow the use of surge brakes on trailers operated in interstate commerce, provided certain conditions are satisfied.

“On the surge brake issue, we had several different associations working together, and we had success with that,” O'Toole says. “I think we'd like to see this coalition (TSIC) stay together so as issues come up that face the industry, we can work on solving them together. There's a bigger voice when we have more associations and companies involved.”

O'Toole says NATM has an Association Relations Committee — chaired by incoming NATM president Carl Maxey of Maxey Mfg in Fort Collins, Colorado — that has worked with others on Early Warning Reporting and other issues.

“We've had a couple of dinners in Washington, DC, where we bring in representatives from a variety of associations so we can get to know each other better and communicate when issues come up, and possibly work together, share ideas and information when problems arise,” she says.

Open communication

Klepinger says TSIC is in its infancy and hasn't locked in on any other specific issues that need to be addressed, but that it is trying to be proactive rather than reactive by keeping the lines of communications open with the Department of Transportation.

“We intend to build upon this and address other issues,” he says. “I think there's a good purpose for this kind of effort. In the next six months, we'll be able to focus on where we are and where we've been, and on future issues.”

Says Michael Kastner, the NTEA's director of government relations, “I think it's fairly open-ended. It's a very cooperative relationship, and that's certainly the way we want to keep it — kind of a transfer-of-information relationship.”

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