Rear impact guard on this van trailer complies with a 1998 federal safety standard that requires certain energy absorption performance. A special label on the front of the bumper says so by including the letters, “DOT.”
 - Photos: Tom Berg

Rear impact guard on this van trailer complies with a 1998 federal safety standard that requires certain energy absorption performance. A special label on the front of the bumper says so by including the letters, “DOT.”

Photos: Tom Berg

Since January 27 of 1998, rear underride guards (aka “ICC bumpers”) on most types of semitrailers have been designed and built to absorb the force of a car slamming into it. They are properly called rear impact guards, or RIGs, and each should have a label attesting to its compliance with the federal regulation that establishes its performance.

In August, those labels were the focus of an inspection and enforcement “blitz” led by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which is composed of motor carrier enforcement authorities in North America. That caused anguish for some members of ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council, who gathered this week in Orlando, Florida, for the fall meeting. They complained that if the sticker was missing from the horizontal portion of the impact guard, or its lettering wasn’t legible, drivers were handed citations.

This was the first item of business in Fleet Talk, a popular session in which fleet managers discuss what irks them about equipment and enforcement issues. Darry Stuart, a fleet management consultant and former TMC general chairman who leads this session, brought the issue up because his manager-friends had called him about it.

“They’re getting citations just for the decal,” he told me when I saw him the day before that session. “And it’s a six-point violation” under the infamous federal Compliance, Safety, Accountability reporting system, better known as CSA.

The label must be placed 12 inches inboard of the forward-facing surface of the RIG’s horizontal member, according to Motor Carrier safety regulation 393.86. Aside from “DOT,” the label must include the manufacturer’s name, and the month and year the trailer was built. It’s not clear what an owner should do if the label becomes illegible or goes missing.   
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The label must be placed 12 inches inboard of the forward-facing surface of the RIG’s horizontal member, according to Motor Carrier safety regulation 393.86. Aside from “DOT,” the label must include the manufacturer’s name, and the month and year the trailer was built. It’s not clear what an owner should do if the label becomes illegible or goes missing.   

“Read 393.86 (of the motor carrier safety code), Sections 1 and 6,” he said. “It defines the ICC bumper and the sticker that the manufacturer is supposed to put on it.” Saying the same thing to people in the Fleet Talk session, he asked how many had received citations for this issue and about a dozen raised their hands.

One was Kevin Tomlinson, maintenance director at South Shore Transportation in Sandusky, Ohio. He said one of his drivers had gotten a ticket in Pennsylvania. “But we run flatbeds with fixed axles — spread axles — and the rear axle is close to the back of the trailer, so under the reg we don’t need the sticker,” or the impact-absorbing guard, for that matter.

“Wheels back vehicles” is what the regulation calls such trailers, and they are specifically exempted from the impact-guard requirement if that axle’s tire surfaces are within 12 inches of the trailer’s rear.  Federal authorities recognized that the rear-set wheels and axle would keep a car from underriding a trailer, so they exempted such trailers from the requirement.

South Shore’s safety supervisor pointed that out to authorities in Pennsylvania, and that ticket was dismissed, Tomlinson said.

CVSA launched the blitz to see how many RIGs are actually on trailers, Stuart and others said at the session. Rear impact guards are stout looking things, but the label is the only way for a field inspector to know for sure.  And if the label is missing, the inspector can assume that the RIG is not compliant and get out his ticket book.

A properly formatted label lists the trailer manufacturer’s name and where and when the trailer was built. By including the letters “DOT,” the manufacturer certifies that the impact guard complies with performance requirements.

Manufacturers test their guards to be sure they do comply with energy absorption specifications or hire outside laboratories to do so. Thus, only a manufacturer should place a label on a rear impact guard.

However, Stuart related that another fleet manager asked his trailer supplier about the issue, and the builder sent him 500 labels that he could install himself. That might be expedient, but would it be wise?

“Putting that label on means you are certifying that guard,” said a manager in the audience. “That could make you legally liable if there’s an accident” and a lawsuit ensues. 

“Wheels back” trailer like this spread-axle flatbed doesn’t legally need a rear impact guard or a label because its tires and rear-most axle would stop a car from plowing under the trailer.  In underride accidents, motorists are usually killed or badly injured.
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“Wheels back” trailer like this spread-axle flatbed doesn’t legally need a rear impact guard or a label because its tires and rear-most axle would stop a car from plowing under the trailer.  In underride accidents, motorists are usually killed or badly injured.

Furthermore, at least one inspector issued a citation because the “DOT” was illegible. That’s not surprising because a label is to be placed on the forward-facing surface of the horizontal member, and toward its right side, just where it gets pelted by road debris and spray from water and ice kicked up by tires. The discussion in this session didn’t solve that problem, but maybe the manager with those 500 extra labels might use them after all (wink-wink).

Moral of this story: If a trailer’s rearmost axle and tires are set well ahead of the trailer’s rear, like those on sliding tandems under 53-foot box trailers, then it needs a rear impact guard that complies with the 1998 mandate, and that guard must have a proper label.

If the trailer is a “wheels back” type with its tires within a foot of the trailer’s rear, then its rear bumper needn’t be a RIG and doesn’t need a label. Tell that to the cop who’s about to write you a ticket. If he doesn’t believe you, just say, “Read 393.86, Sections 1 and 6.”

Author

Tom Berg
Tom Berg

Tom Berg

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational trucks and trailers of all types.

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Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational trucks and trailers of all types.

View Bio
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