Watch your Six! A military term to watch out behind you. The term is equally applicable to truck drivers. Although rear underride guards (a/k/a ICC bars or rear bumpers) have been required for more than 65 years, they are not included on the list of safety related items to be inspected on the DOT required annual inspection. It appears that is about to change.
The United States Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would amend the list of items that must be examined as part of the required annual inspection for each commercial motor vehicle. The proposed amendment would also change the labeling requirements for rear impact guards, and exempt certain horizontal discharge trailers utilized in road construction activities.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, published in the Federal Register on December 29, 2020 provides a 60-day public comment period until February 27, 2021. All persons or entities interested in this proposed rule amended must submit their comments before that date. The important takeaway is that once effective, the annual DOT vehicle inspection forms will be amended to require inspectors to examine the rear underride guard to ensure compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and that it is properly labeled during the annual inspections.
Although the proposed rule will add the rear underride guard to the list of items check in the required annual inspections, the overall impact of the rule may be de minimis for several reasons. First, no changes are being made to require alterations to the current underride guards in place or place more stringent requirements on newly manufactured units.
The performance requirements created by the National Highway Transit Safety Administration (NHTSA) set forth in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 223 and 224 have been in place since 1996. Those standards set out the performance requirements of rear underride guards, manufacturing and installation specifications, and labeling requirements. Nothing in this new rule will alter those specifications.
Aside from placing the rear underride guard on the list of items to be inspected on the annual DOT inspection form, the proposed rule relaxes the labeling requirements to give manufacturers more flexibility in where the required labeling is to be placed on the guard.
In addition, the proposed rule will exempt certain horizontal discharge trailers used to deliver asphalt to road constructions sites. Requiring the rear underride guard on these trailers would not allow them to function as designed and would preclude them from coupling with the road paving machine. Although NHTSA amended its rules in 2004 to exempt such trailers, FMCSA has never incorporated those amendments. This proposed rule would accomplish that to bring the FMCSA regulations in line with NHTSA on this issue.
Interested parties have until February 27, 2021 to submit public comment. However, it does not appear that this proposed rule will generate a significant response since it is not materially altering the current standards and is not requiring additional action for compliance. As such, the proposed rule will likely be adopted as written.
The key takeaway is to make sure your equipment have the required rear underride guard. More importantly, make sure the required labeling is present and visible before your next annual DOT inspection. Otherwise, the CMV Enforcement Officer may be the one watching your six-which could land you a ticket if you are not in compliance. Stay safe out there, and Watch Your Six!