Underride: back from the back burner

HAS it already been a decade since underride regulations were the highest-profile issue facing trailer manufacturers?

Well, guess what's back…

Come September 1, new trailers sold in Canada must meet new, more stringent regulations implemented by Transport Canada. (Transport Canada is the agency that plays essentially the same role in Canada as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does in the United States.)

For some U S trailer manufacturers, this is nothing newsworthy. They routinely do business in Canada and have been tracking the development of Transport Canada's rulemaking from the beginning. (The rule, published in 2004, gave trailer manufacturers until this year to develop guards that meet the standard). Some U S manufacturers also have been following the Canadian research and development efforts to design underride guards that can comply with the new Canadian motor vehicle safety standard.

But other manufacturers may be in for a surprise.

Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (CMVSS) 223 bears a striking resemblance to its American counterpart, FMVSS 223. But in one strength test, CMVSS 223 requires the guard to withstand three times the force and absorb roughly four times the energy as comparable requirements found in FMVSS 223.

Beyond calling for stronger underride, Canadians are showing that it's possible to build and install rear impact guards that meet the more rigorous requirements of CMVSS 223. Additional information about the testing can be found in our coverage of the recent Canadian Transportation Equipment Association's annual manufacturers' conference. See Page 107.

Speakers at the CTEA conference cautioned that the results were preliminary and that additional testing must be conducted. But the early tests are showing that it is possible to meet the requirements.

CMVSS 223 promises to impact the trailer manufacturing industry throughout North America. Based on what the Canadian government is requiring and what researchers are testing, the state of the art in underride guards has changed. And when the state of the art of safety-related products changes, that has ramifications for everyone.

Even so, some U S manufacturers could be tempted to say, “Okay, but I don't sell trailers into Canada. Canadian regulations do not apply to me.”

Well, yes and no. The new regulation may not apply to you, but that does not mean that the new rule will not affect you.

Highway safety is serious business. No manufacturer wants the reputation of taking shortcuts with safety. Every trailer builder wants to be able to look the customer in the eye and honestly say that he builds the safest trailers on the road. But he cannot say that if his underride guards meet the U S regulation but fail the Canadian standard.

And then there's the liability issue. Manufacturers whose guards only meet U S criteria may find future cases more difficult to defend. Even more vulnerable would be a manufacturer who offers Canadian guards for sale in Canada and did not make them standard equipment on U S trailers. After all, when it comes to trailer underride, it's not about the regulation. It's about the litigation.

CTEA has taken an active role in helping members — particularly small manufacturers — meet the U S underride standard. Now the association is working in partnership with the National Research Council of Canada to get ready for Canada's underride regulation.

The joint program is expected to produce a stronger version of the generic rear impact guard that CTEA has offered its members. But there's more — additional designs such as a guard with slanting support members and one with four vertical support members. The program is also developing guards made of aluminum and stainless steel. The generic underride is becoming a little less generic.

Reportedly, more than 20 people die and more than 100 are injured each year in underride accidents in Canada. We don't know how many casualties Transport Canada will prevent by parting company with their counterparts in the United States and raising the bar. The number could be small, but the effect on trailer manufacturers should be significant.

TAGS: Trailers
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