Shortly after we delivered the 11,000+ AnnaLeah & Mary Stand Up For Truck Safety Petitions to Washington, DC, we were invited to tour the research & design center of a tractor-trailer manufacturer. After doing so, my immediate reaction was to wonder what would ever bring about a major improvement in underride guard strength. And I wished that I could just sit down with the trailer manufacturers and hammer out a solution.
An underride (or rear impact) guard is required by federal law for some large trucks to prevent a vehicle from sliding underneath a truck in the event of a collision. Too often, these guards–as in our crash–even if they meet specifications, are properly installed, and are maintained, do not withstand the crash and the smaller vehicle slides under the truck. As a result, life-saving technologies are not put into effect and there is intrusion into the passenger compartment.
In other words, the back of the truck comes into contact with people in the smaller vehicle who then experience horrific injuries and–too often–death.
I emailed many people–hoping to drum up some interest in addressing this issue jointly. When I found out that there was going to be a new administrator, Mark Rosekind, at NHTSA, I wrote to him and asked that NHTSA host an underride roundtable discussion.
After exchanging a few emails, I was contacted by his scheduling assistant, who said that we would have a phone call in mid-February. As it turns out, that conversation never took place. Instead, Mark Rosekind arranged for me to speak on the phone with David Friedman, Deputy Administrator at NHTSA, on March 27, 2015.
When we met with DOT on May 5, 2014, David Friedman was the one who told me that he would let me know when a rulemaking was announced for underride guards. And he did so on July 9, 2014 (after promising that they would make a decision in two months, he was very close!): http://annaleahmary.com/2014/07/nhtsa-has-initiated-a-rulemaking-process-to-evaluate-options-for-improving-underride-guards/ . So, it was fitting that he would be the one to let me know about any progress on meeting our petition requests.
We discussed my hopes for an underride roundtable–to bring together those who could do something about improving underride guards. David told me that–while NHTSA would like to host such events–a discussion of underride would likely not occur until 2016. And, even then, it would probably be only one part of a broader truck safety conference.
That would definitely be a good thing but, in my mind, not give adequate attention to the underride issue. In fact, as we talked, it became clear that if an underride roundtable were going to occur, we would have to spearhead the effort.
So, after thanking him for the update, I scheduled a quarterly phone call for June–at which time he promised to provide me with information on the progress of the truck safety issues in our petition. Then I began brainstorming ways in which we could actually work to organize an underride roundtable–with NHTSA as potential participants.
Earlier, I had spoken about that possibility with John Lannen, Director of the Truck Safety Coalition. So, after speaking with David Friedman, I resumed that conversation. John and I came up with some initial steps to get the process underway. I made a few contacts, and so did he. As a result, we have had some interesting developments and hope to unveil the details soon.
Perhaps we are closer to seeing improvements in underride protection. Perhaps our loss can serve as a catalyst to encourage the development of The Best Possible Protection for preventing future losses from truck underride crashes.