Truck Rollover Prevention Tech on Chopping Block in Trump Budget

By Shaun Courtney

A truck safety rule valued by highway safety advocates and the federal traffic safety agency could be reconsidered, according to the agency’s budget proposal for fiscal 2018.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering deregulatory action on the electronic stability control (ESC) mandate, set to take effect Aug. 1. The rule is meant to prevent tractor trailers and motor coaches from rolling over or their drivers from losing control.

The American Trucking Associations didn’t respond to a Bloomberg BNA inquiry, but during the rulemaking period the trade group said it “welcomed” the technology. The rule was approved in 2015.

Equipment manufacturers and safety groups question eliminating ESC technology in tractors, especially as NHTSA calls in the same budget for nearly $2 million to research expanding the safety technology to more types of trucks.

“There’s not often that there’s actually a good mandate that’s done. But, in this particular case, this one is actually good,” Fred Andersky, a director at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC, which makes ESC equipment, told Bloomberg BNA.

Business Adoption

The budget proposal creates “uncertainty” for manufacturers who have to plan far in advance to build compliant technology, according to Catherine Boland, vice president of legislative affairs of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association.

“You’ve ordered the materials, you’ve got the plants ready to go, you’ve got the tooling in place, you’ve started training your workers for this expectation,” Boland told Bloomberg BNA.

Bendrix, a member company of Boland’s organization, manufactures technology that meets the ESC standard because companies like Peterbilt Motors Co. and Volvo AB have adopted it as standard.

Andersky said NHSTA did a lot things right when it mandated stability technology for trucks. He emphasized:

  •  The agency waited for the technology to mature before finalizing a rule. NHTSA first floated the idea in 2007, but didn’t finalize the rule until 2015.
  •  The technology isn’t exceptionally expensive, especially compared to environmental standards.
  •  ESC is effective. NHTSA states in its FY18 budget that the technology “is estimated to prevent a significant number of rollover crashes involving tractor trailers and motor coaches.”

Costly Crashes

Rollovers and accidents caused by loss of control cost companies time and money, said Andersky.

They are also deadly. The Transportation Department predicted the technology could prevent 49 fatalities, 649 injuries and nearly 1,800 crashes each year at the time it announced the ESC rule in 2015.

“We think it’s one of the major problems that trucks have; they get into a rollover situation. And electronic stability control helps keep vehicles out of a rollover situation,” Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Vice President Henry Jasny told Bloomberg BNA.

The safety benefits and the effects of major collisions on the economy were among the justifications NHTSA used in its FY18 budget request for additional funding for the Heavy Vehicle Crash Avoidance research program. The research program would explore expanding ESC to more vehicles, among other studies, with the money requested.

Making the Case

The items in the budget proposal under consideration for deregulatory action such as ESC “should not be interpreted as comprehensive or indicative of final agency decision-making,” NHTSA told Bloomberg BNA in a statement.

Even so, “The concern is that they are saying something, so they are saying something for a reason,” Jasny said.

Any deregulatory action would take several years to go into effect because of required comment periods and cost-benefit analyses, according to Boland.

“They have to go through and prove that the assumptions that they put out when this technology was mandated, they have to go out there and disprove what they said at the time,” Boland said.

NHTSA would have to make the case that the technology was not effective or necessary, a challenging task if the same agency receives an additional $2 billion to research expanding the technology’s use.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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