A hundred thousand pounds of timber hurtles down the interstate alongside workers on their way to the office, families on their way to vacations and other commercial freight carriers delivering their loads. Log truck drivers charged with ensuring their timber’s safe delivery also have a huge responsibly to protect those with whom they share the road; however, few realize drivers themselves are often not properly protected from their cargo.
What is supposed to be protecting them? Cab guards. The shiny, metal pieces positioned behind the cab of almost every log truck in the United States are purchased with the belief they will protect from cargo shifting forward and crushing a driver’s cab during a crash. The earliest concept of a cab guard for heavy trucks, called a “truck driver protection shield,” dates back to at least 1960. The patent for the 1960 guard cites earlier designs for streetcar fenders and rail car guards as inspiration.
However, it wasn’t until the federal government and other interested parties began sponsoring and conducting research to evaluate the causes of heavy truck crashes in the ‘70s and ‘80s that cab guards truly made their way onto the manufacturing scene.
The studies found the primary contributing factors for truck fatalities were ejection and rollover, and determined the best way to help prevent deaths was to strengthen the structural integrity of the cabs. Manufacturing companies saw a niche they could fill, and cab guards’ popularity increased. Merritt Equipment Co. created the term cab guard and began manufacturing the product in 1972.
Ultimately, the tests from the ‘70s and ‘80s culminated in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) developing a regulation requiring cab guards on the back of large trucks and guiding minimum manufacturing standards, though implementation and compliance was largely left to the discretion of trucking companies. Unfortunately, those minimum standards did not work as intended.
“Instead of prompting manufacturers to exceed the minimum – as the auto industry did – cab guard manufacturers continued to only meet the bare minimum,” Beasley Allen lawyer LaBarron Boone, who handles cab guard litigation for the firm, said. “Once it was clear the minimum standards and cab guard requirements were not being used as intended, they were scrapped in 2004.”
The 2004 rewrite of FMCSA standards was prompted by U.S. House hearings called after nine cargo securement accidents occurred in New York between 1990 and 1993 with three fatalities. The North American Load Security Research Project was launched “to revise the regulations concerning protection against shifting and falling cargo for commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) engaged in interstate commerce,” according to the Federal Register on Dec. 18, 2000.
From the research project, new regulations were developed and took effect on Jan. 1, 2004. These new regulations switched the focus from vehicle crashworthiness to load securement, and do not include design or performance standards for cab guards – only for front-end structures, which are attached to trailers, not cabs, and have direct contact with the cargo.
Cab guards’ woefully inadequate design – using weak aluminum instead of a stronger metal like steel – remains as it was prior to 2004, further illustrating the minimum design standards of the past were not used as intended and cab guard manufacturers continue to risk lives with their products. In the coming weeks, we will highlight the devastating effects of defective cab guards and what can be done to protect people on America’s roadways.
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For more information about cab guards and trucking injuries, contact LaBarron Boone in our Montgomery office at Labarron.Boone@beasleyallen.com, Chris Glover in our Atlanta office at Chris.Glover@beasleyallen.com, or call us at 800-898-2034.
Visit BeasleyAllen.com next Wednesday, June 21, for another installment in our Cab Guard Series.
FMCSA – Cargo Securement Rules
Congressional Hearing – 1993