Ready to ask for directions

CLICHÉS tend to have their roots in truth. One of the more popular clichés is that men don't like to read the instructions or ask for directions.

But sometimes we are left with no choice. For those who have tried to work their way through the Code of Federal Regulations, it's easy to see why many in our industry have chosen to rely on an expert to determine whether a particular truck will comply with applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

For those who have grappled with the ambiguities of “suitability for use” and other uncertainties of federal excise tax, it's understandable how even the most macho among us can be motivated to ask for directions.

For many years, Louis Kleinstiver was that expert — someone to whom the truck equipment industry turned when the instructions they were reading were not completely clear or when they needed directions as they navigated through arcane FET rulings from the Internal Revenue Service.

Year after year, Kleinstiver (along with Mark Sidman, NTEA's legal counsel) conducted workshops on FET, fielding questions on the fly, yet immediately providing answers that were reasoned and (as best as an FET layman could determine) accurate.

Day after day, as NTEA's technical services director, Kleinstiver worked with people who needed answers to the basic question of “In my particular case, with this particular truck, how do I satisfy my customer, the chassis manufacturer, and the government (local, state, federal) all at the same time?”

Kleinstiver lost his battle with cancer February 29.

In a sense, Kleinstiver served as a bridge between two worlds. In one — the world that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has in mind when it develops rules and regulations — megacorporations with large engineering staffs and substantial resources mass-produce identical vehicles. The other world is the one in which the truck equipment industry operates.

Even those of us who have had to figure out how to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards have to admit that these regulations have helped save lives. When we look back at the pre-NHTSA days, it is remarkable how much safer automobiles are today. No more steel dashboards. Chrome-plated cigarette lighters and radio knobs no longer resemble arrowheads. Brake technology has made substantial gains, and even entry-level models now come with seat belts (and shoulder harnesses) as standard equipment. NHTSA correctly has had large-volume vehicles in mind as the agency has sought to improve highway safety. That is where the biggest benefit to the public can be found.

Yet not all of these regulations were easy to apply in an industry that builds trucks one at a time. Through the years, Kleinstiver and others helped NHTSA understand what the truck equipment industry is and the limitations small manufacturers face. Occasionally, our industry has persuaded NHTSA to reconsider proposals that were particularly inapplicable.

But generally, individual companies have had to figure out how to make NHTSA's large-volume regulations work in our small-volume world. That's why the recent proposal to establish The Louis V Kleinstiver Institute for Multi-Stage Vehicle Safety is an idea worth pursuing.

What specifically would the Kleinstiver Institute be able to offer? The NTEA board of trustees, which recently approved $10,000 to start the institute, is weighing the possibilities. Perhaps a guiding principle would be to provide engineering services that the average distributor cannot provide for himself. For example, a software publisher recently announced it will have a program that will simulate crash-test dummies. The system will be designed for use with crash-test simulation software. While we doubt that many in our industry could justify such a purchase, we can imagine that engineering calculations produced by state-of-the-art software at the Kleinstiver Institute could be useful when producing one-of-kind trucks or when defending them in a product liability suit.

As initially announced, the purpose of the institute will be “to conduct cooperative testing, develop performance standards, and advance the safety of vehicles built in multiple stages.”

The idea of cooperative engineering efforts is nothing new. Faced with the prospect of a Canadian underride standard, the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association has developed a generic underride guard that has been tested in ways that small manufacturers could not afford.

The industry has struggled for years to comply with regulations written for the big boys. It may be that the time is right for small guys to pool their resources and make sure that the directions they receive are the best they can possibly get.

Agree or disagree? Make your voice heard by visiting Trailer/Body Builders Express (www.trailer-bodybuilders.com) and clicking on “Contact Us”.

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