ATA Seeks Guidance on Missing Underride Guard Labels

The trucking industry is asking federal regulators for clarity about potential enforcement issues surrounding a new rule for annual inspection of rear underride guards on trailers.

Specifically, American Trucking Associations in a March 25 letter asked what would happen if labels that must be attached to trailers to certify that a guard complies with placement and strength requirements are lost, damaged or unreadable. The law mandating the inspections and labels took effect in December.

“While ATA supports adding rear underride guards to the list of annually inspected items, there is a fundamental disconnect in which a rear underride guard can pass annual inspection but fail a roadside inspection due to the labeling requirement,” Kevin Grove, director of ATA safety and technology policy, wrote in the letter, sent to FMCSA Associate Administrator Larry Minor. “ATA does not believe that the presence of a manufacturers label will — in any case — have an impact on safety.”

Grove’s letter noted that at ATA’s recent Technology & Maintenance Council Annual Meeting, fleets expressed concern that the final rule did not address a petition on the general labeling requirement filed by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

“During the Fleet Operators’ Forum on Wednesday, March 9, 2022, fleets reiterated that they are not able to acquire replacements for damaged or missing labels, and were frustrated over whether this issue could lead to violations that are out of their control,” Grove wrote.

In its November rulemaking, FMCSA said CVSA’s label question was a “separate issue” to be dealt with in the future.

The ATA letter also noted that trailers manufactured in Canada are not subject to this manufacturing requirement, and fleets would not be able to acquire labels for these trailers if they are operated within the U.S.

“Currently, CVSA provides regulatory guidance which acknowledges these difficulties and provides a de facto path for fleets to operate safely without receiving violations,” ATA wrote. “However, ATA believes the issue needs to be addressed by FMCSA directly so that fleets are explicitly compliant with regulations while meeting all operational inspection requirements.”

ATA said that rear underride guards are a manufacturing requirement, and labels are affixed at the point of manufacture.

“Rear underride guards that are in service and continue to meet operational inspection requirements cannot be ‘re-certified’ because the manufacturer cannot verify the performance of used products,” ATA wrote. “Therefore, fleets cannot acquire replacement labels for rear underride guards which otherwise meet inspection requirements. Due to the longevity of trailers and operations in difficult environments, these labels see substantial distress and it is not uncommon for damage or displacement to occur.”

Rear impact guards and rear-end protection on most commercial vehicles reduce the incidence of passenger compartment intrusion during crashes in which a passenger vehicle strikes the rear of the commercial motor vehicle, FMCSA has said.

Industry trade groups largely have been supportive of the new annual inspection requirement.

So far, the agency has not answered the question.