What's happening with rear underride: Seeking Temporary Relief From Regulatory Headaches

March 1, 1998
IT MAY SOUND like something that aspirin provides, but a few truck body and trailer manufacturers are seeking temporary relief from the recently implemented

IT MAY SOUND like something that aspirin provides, but a few truck body and trailer manufacturers are seeking temporary relief from the recently implemented rear underride regulations by petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for exemptions.

The Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association (TTMA) had requested a delay in implementing the underride mandate for the entire industry. TTMA asked the agency to delay the regulations until nine months after any petitions for reconsideration were issued. This would give underride guard engineers a specific, fixed target for which they could design.

But in a final rule published in The Federal Register January 26 (the same day that the underride regulations took effect), NHTSA denied the request. This means underride is now required for all applicable trailers-unless the manufacturer has been granted an exemption.

In recent weeks, NHTSA either has received or responded to several requests for temporary exemptions from trailer manufacturers. These exemptions, when granted, can exclude manufacturers from provisions of the regulations for as much as three years, but they are not a free pass. When the allotted period is up, the manufacturers will be required to comply.

"Companies that produce fewer than 10,000 units per year have the right to plead hardship," says Dick Boling, TTMA president. "But they will have to be ready when the exemption is up."

In the same January 26 notice in The Federal Register, NHTSA clarified the height requirement of the guard's horizontal member, and exempted certain tank and pulpwood trailers from the regulation (see accompanying story). Needing More Time

Dan Hill & Associates, manufacturers of Flow Boy horizontal discharge dump trailers, received an exemption January 26 following a request the company filed in November.

"It took a long time and a couple of attorneys to get the exemption," says Terry Hill, president. "But it is something that we really needed. In drawing up the underride guard regulation, NHTSA painted the industry with a broad brush. Some specialized trailers such as ours are going to have a difficult time meeting the requirements."

The exemption is scheduled to expire February 1, 1999. In granting the petition, NHTSA cited the following:

The trailers spend a considerable portion of the time at rest at construction sites amid other road equipment, reducing the exposure to rear-end collisions.

The annual production of these trailers is relatively small (less than 100).

The manufacturer has tried in good faith to comply.

In its petition, Dan Hill & Associates said that it sent a product specialist to Germany in 1994 to evaluate European underride technology only to discover that differences between German and U S paving equipment kept the guards from being used in the U S. A retractable underride guard produced by a British company was another possibility, but it did not lend itself to Flow Boy operations. The company said in its petition that it would continue to explore the possibility of using a retractable rear guard during the period of its temporary exemption.

Other Applicants Two other manufacturers have filed for temporary exemptions. As of late February, however, the agency had not yet acted on their requests. Seeking extensions are:

Trinity Trailer Manufacturing (formerly Farm Bed Manufacturing) of Boise, Idaho, applied for a three-year exemption, according to the January 15 Federal Register. The company anticipates "substantial economic hardship" from the standard. Trinity manufactures the "Eagle Bridge" bulk transporter. The self-unloading trailers use small conveyor belts at the end of the trailer to unload potatoes and other agricultural products. The rear shaft of the conveyor belt protrudes 24 inches from the rear of the trailer in order to drop the cargo onto another conveyor belt located at the unloading site.

Trinity had sought an exemption under the "special-purpose vehicle" provision of FMVSS 224 because the trailers are manufactured with "work-performing equipment." Responding to its June 28, 1996 request, NHTSA replied last summer that the "Eagle Bridge" did not qualify. The agency pointed out that to qualify for this exemption, the equipment has to be mounted or pass through the area where the horizontal member of an underride guard would be mounted-during the time the trailer is in transit.

The manufacturer requested a three-year extension because of the costs it expects to incur to reengineer its trailers. It estimates the costs would be $709 per trailer after a three-year exemption, compared with a cost increase of $2,943 if the company only receives a one-year exemption. Trinity produced 263 of these trailers during the 12 months prior to its request for a temporary exemption.

Red River Manufacturing, West Fargo ND. Horizontal discharge trailers also are the specialty at Red River. The company sells its "Live Bottom" trailers to two basic markets. One model is used in road construction applications to deliver asphalt and other materials. Another model is used for agricultural products. In a petition published in the February 2 Federal Register, the company requested a three-year exemption from the regulation. Red River believes it needs the additional time to develop a guard that will allow its trailer to retain its functionality and price competitiveness. Having a guard immediately would cause its customers to switch to less costly dump trucks, the company said.

In its petition, Red River told NHTSA that through the help of a business partner in Denmark, it reviewed European rear impact systems that required the guards to be retracted manually. The company does not believe these guards would be acceptable in the U S market.

Red River also investigated power-retractable underride guards. The initial designs, however, did not meet the energy-absorbing requirement of the regulation. The company said it is continuing to refine retractable designs. Closing date for the Red River petition was February 23.