Trailer Talk

Underride guards in Japan look weaker but cover more area than here

January 20, 2012

Underride guards are becoming topical in the United States as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is petitioning federal safety authorities to toughen the regulation that govern the design on rear bumpers on trailers.

Like all commercial vehicles of any size, this trailer sports underride barriers on three sides. Its tractor's engine was idling, like all other heavy vehicles at this Japanese truck stop.

I had this in mind during a trip to Japan in late November because I knew had to write a story on underride guards for HDT (and did; it's in the January edition, page 64). While there I noticed commercial trailers and trucks and how they're equipped with underride barriers.

The barriers look like inverted fences that are strung along the rear and sides of trailers and truck bodies, covering the otherwise open areas ahead and behind their wheels.

They seem to be intended to keep pedestrians and riders of scooters and motorcycles from sliding underneath the vehicles where injuries might become more severe than a simple bashing from running into them.

The barriers are fabricated of small-diameter metal tubing and don't look very strong - nothing as stout as the impact-absorbing structures mandated in the U.S. and Canada. So I doubt that the Japanese barriers would prevent the noses of automobiles from forcing their way underneath.

Our host for the trip was Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp., which, like other manufacturers, equips its trucks with the barriers, evidently because they're required to. But the barriers never came up in conversations with the Fuso folks.

I wasn't able to just ask someone about them because few Japanese speak English (and I don't speak their language). And I've not been able to find anything about the barriers by doing Web searches.

Similar barriers are used on heavy trucks in the United Kingdom, though they seem more stout and serious about the job they're supposed to do. I've heard that British authorities want them further strengthened. As in Japan, the guards cover the sides of trailers and trucks and not just the rear, like here.

IIHS people have not mentioned side-impact guards for America, probably because such accidents are very rare, and when they happen the closing speeds are less.

Another odd thing we foreign press people noticed in Japan is engine idling. Drivers of large commercial trucks and buses invariably leave their engines running wherever they're parked.

Fuel there is more expensive than here, yet we saw (or heard) this everywhere - at street curbs, outside a big expo center in Tokyo and at a rural truck stop - engines idling away, and for no apparent reason other than that's what drivers do.

The Japanese are pretty smart, but apparently not smart enough to make the connection between costly fuel and engine idling. Well, many truckers here are likewise silly, and it takes preaching by managers and anti-idling laws in various states and municipalities to do away with it. You'd think this would be happening in Japan, but evidently not.

If you know anything about underride barriers in Japan, or engine idling, for that matter, please post a comment below. (If comments are not visible, click here.