Important Follow-up to the Underride Roundtable, June 24 at IIHS: The Work Continues

We have scheduled a follow-up meeting to the Underride Roundtable on Friday, June 24, at 10:00 a.m. at the IIHS offices in Arlington, VA. Further details will be shared when available.

We will mainly be discussing the proposed Australian underride rule with a presentation by Raphael Grzebieta from Australia. It is our hope that this will help the United States assess the relevancy of Australia’s progressive work to the future of underride rulemaking for improved protection in our country.

News of this proposed rule:

Other topics — relevant to our goal of reducing underride crashes, fatalities, and severe injuries — will be addressed to some extent, including side and front underride/override, retrofitting, SUTs/exempt trucks, conspicuity, parking.  Future meetings are anticipated in order to continue working on the preventable underride problem.

In addition to the underride rule from Australia, comments from Detlef Alwes of Germany should be carefully reviewed by anyone who holds responsibility for advancing underride protection. This is the most important point which he has made to me over & over in his communication with me via email:

Real energy absorbing underrun protection crash structures or deformation zones on commercial vehicles should become standard, as they have been on passenger cars for decades.

Here is a presentation on underride protection prepared by Detlef: Proposal for an Energy Absorbing Underrun Protection System for Commercial Vehicles

After observing the webcast of the Underride Roundtable, Detlef also made the following recommendations which he would like shared with interested parties in the United States who bear responsibility for the advancement of underride protection.

In my opinion the following points should be addressed for rulemaking:
  • real energy absorbing underrun protection system design (the current UP systems are rigid structures to be avoided).
  • lateral proof loads to be considered in design and testing.
  • instead of dot-like test loads, the test loads should be defined area-like distributed.
  • the test collision speed should be higher (just in Germany, the collision velocities are much higher than these of the current crash tests because most highways have no speed limitation).
  • the ‘Follow-up Underride Roundtable’ should develop Underrun Protection Guidelines and discuss them on UN/ECE level (WP29). “

Detlef’s last recommendation should be given serious consideration, as underride protection is not unique to one country or another. Saving lives is saving lives.

The UN/ECE level (WP29) aims for worldwide technical harmonization of vehicles: The worldwide technical harmonisation of vehicles is governed by two international agreements – the 1958 Agreement and the 1998 parallel Agreement. These agreements establish harmonised requirements at global level to ensure high levels of safety, environmental protection, energy efficiency, and theft protection. Both agreements help eliminate existing technical barriers to trade and prevent the creation of new ones. The involvement of the EU enables easy access to non-EU markets for manufacturers.

This is Detlef’s experience with this kind of collaborative process:

This suggestion is based on my experience in another field: I was the German representative in an international committee for space debris mitigation (IADC: Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee). The 11 members of the space leading nations have developed the so-called ‘Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines’.

These Guidelines have been presented to the UN, to the Scientific Subcommittee of UNCOPUOS (UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space). In this Committee the UN Guidelines for Space Debris Mitigation have been worked out and ratified. It was confirmed by the Committee that this process was very effective and very fast – exemplary. The initiative was started by US (NASA), Europe (ESA) and Russia.

It would be great, if we could establish also such an international committee to develop underrun protection guidelines, which we present to the UN/ECE WP 29. The Proposal to the WP 29 can be put on the agenda by the heads of delegation of the represented nations. Maybe such a process can be started by the initiative of you, the IIHS, the NHTSA and others. According my experience, the German governmental authorities will not be initiative to start. They will follow if it works no longer differently.

His reaction to the Virginia Tech team was this:

Yes, I followed this presentation. At the beginning, I thought that there are good concepts but than I was a little bit disappointed about the chosen reference concept, which is near the conventional barriers with small energy absorbing struts. It is a pity that a more effective underride protection system is owed the opinion that it gets too expensive. My suggestion is to start with a realistic energy absorbing underride protection system, and when effective, one can continue with mass and cost saving measures.

I asked Detlef what he thought of crash testing at higher speeds:

Me: I don’t know if you noticed in the webcast, but I raised the question multiple times about why we were not testing at higher speeds and could we please do so. 

Detlef: Yes, I noticed that, and I fully agree. I am wondering that the ADAC in Germany is testing also at 56 km/h, corresponding to 35 mph. That is not very realistic,  just were in Germany on most highways is no speed limitation, and therefore in most cases the collision velocities are much higher, although if a braking action in the last moment has been taken.

Detlef: Some organisations require higher proof loads, to which bumpers have to withstand. This means that the bumpers of the trucks become stiffer and stiffer. Actual bumpers have to withstand these static dot-like proof loads in longitudinal direction and may break if they are exceeded. This should not be the intention for a crash compatible partnership between the trucks and passenger cars. Decades of discussions in international committees have failed to develop bumper technology beyond what it was in the 1950s. The message should be: Energy absorbing underrun protection structures on commercial vehicles should become standard, as they are on passenger cars for decades.

Detlef watched the Underride Roundtable livestreaming and had submitted a question about oblique impact to the panel discussion:


I hope the sketch will express what I mean. In the case of an oblique impact on the reaqr side of a truck, the lateral test loads/forces are not defined, only the longitudinal loads/forces in P1, P2 and P3. The damage in the case of an oblique impact can be higher than in the case of an impact in the direction of the longitudinal axes.

Oblique Impact Drawing Detlef Alwes

Offset tests show that the passenger car is turning due to the offset of the Center of Gravities of both cars. But also in this case, the lateral loads/forces are not considered in the regulations.

Underride is a decades-old problem. I look forward to a future less plagued by such preventable tragedies.

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