U.S. House approves measure for major big rig safety upgrades

Tractor-trailers are easily the tallest, longest, widest and heaviest vehicles rolling on Interstate 155 into and out of Dyersburg. Eighteen-wheelers also pose the most danger to occupants of passenger vehicles.

Unbreakable laws

The laws of physics are stacked against people in cars, pick-ups and SUVs. Consider this grim statistic from 2018: of the more than 4,100 people who were killed in commercial truck accidents, two-thirds were passenger vehicle occupants, while only 16 percent were truck drivers. (The remaining fatalities were pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.)

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to make big rigs safer by requiring the addition of two effective safety features: an automatic emergency braking system and rear underride guards.

Two safety technologies

Underride guards are simply metal bars affixed to the back ends of trailers that prevent cars from sliding beneath trailers when they strike the trailers from behind. The results of underride collisions are some of the most horrific in roadway wrecks, with the tops of cars often sheared off as they slide beneath the semi-truck’s trailer.

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is standard equipment on most new passenger vehicles, often in combination with forward-collision warning systems. AEB and forward-collision warning systems use an array of cameras or radar to track the proximity of objects directly ahead.

If the system senses an impending collision, it will issue an alert or apply the brakes to slow or even stop your vehicle.

Study shows big safety benefit

In a study released last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) determined that the inclusion of AEB and forward-collision warnings could prevent more than 40 percent of wrecks in which a commercial truck rear-ends another vehicle.

Even when the systems cannot prevent a crash, they lessen the severity of injuries by cutting the big rig’s speed by more than half before impact.

The legislative road ahead

The legislation that passed the House will have to be reconciled with a measure working its way through the Senate. The measure would then be sent to the White House to await the president’s signature.

If the proposal becomes law, it would require 18-wheeler and trailer manufacturers to include AEB and underride guards on all new big rigs.