Accidentally recognizing safety

July 5, 2016
Trailer/Body Builders June 2016 editorial

We would like to be able to tell you that the stories about safety inside our June issue are there in recognition of National Safety Month.

But we can’t. In all honesty, we didn’t even know that June is National Safety Month until almost everything for this issue of Trailer/Body Builders was written and ready to be printed.

It slipped up on us. Much like an accident can.

The stories are there, not because of a particular month, but because we report what our industry is doing. And the truck and trailer industry is very much involved with safety.

“June is National Safety Month, and members of the trucking industry deserve to be commended for their efforts to make our roads safer,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “Our industry spends more than $7 billion annually on safety-related training, technology and equipment – and that investment is paying off in a big way.”

Since 2004, truck-involved fatal crashes are down 21%. And since the industry was economically deregulated in 1980, those crashes are down 32% and the crash rate per 100 million miles has been cut an astonishing 74%, according to ATA.

Give credit to the manufacturers who build safer equipment and to the customers who buy it and use it.

Perhaps the highest profile activity recently has been the work truck trailer manufacturers have been doing in conjunction with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to develop underride guards that significantly exceed the requirements of federal safety standards. Four of the eight largest trailer manufacturers in North America have shown that their guards can prevent underride in this extreme test, and those improved designs are quickly moving onto roads and highways. For example, Vanguard National made its new guard standard January 1, and Stoughton Trailers did the same thing shortly after passing its IIHS crash test May 5.

Manufacturers of smaller trailers have their own set of safety concerns—starting with the fact that a light-duty trailer can be built in your backyard by people unfamiliar with the regulations and engineering expertise needed to produce safe trailers.

A separate concern is that small trailers often are a consumer product bought by people with little or no experience towing trailers. Those who buy them may not know how to back them up, much less load them safely.

From its beginning more than 25 years ago, the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers has been working to make manufacturers aware of their responsibilities.

“Manufacturers were putting VIN numbers on the trailers that they made, but many were not aware of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that they had to meet,” says Pam Trusdale, NATM’s executive director.

As a first step, NATM compiled regulatory requirements from various agencies into a single book and asked members to voluntarily comply with the contents of the book. From there, the idea morphed into a compliance program in which NATM compliance specialists conduct on-site visits to ensure that the member company is following through. This, too, proved popular, with 80% of the association’s members participating. In 2011, NATM made participation in the program a requirement for a trailer manufacturer to be a member. Only then can manufacturers apply an NATM compliance label on the trailers they produce.

“We want to help people, not just catch them doing things wrong,” Trusdale says. “We assist them in meeting all the federal regulations. Want everyone building safe trailers.”

Consumer education is the other side of the coin.

“Our members build safe trailers,” Trusdale says. “The next step is getting the consumer to use them properly.”

To do so, the association has produced how-to videos and developed a brochure on towing safety. NATM is now working on getting 50,000 of these brochures into the same hands that drive the trucks that pull the trailers.

Trusdale met June 15 with the American Auto­mobile Association to explore ways the two groups can work together to promote highway safety.

Continuation of the NATM member compliance program and expanding the consumer education program are part of a strategic plan that NATM drew up recently based on input from NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. A third component of the plan is to improve communication between the trailer and the towing vehicle. With General Motors recently becoming the association’s first truck manufacturer member, NATM hopes to advance its efforts to provide harmony and unity to trucks and trailers.

“We have come a long way in the last 20 years,” Trusdale says. “We are committed to making our highways safer.”