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Single-unit trucks are special safety focus for NHTSA officials

Where rear-end collisions involving passenger vehicles trailing trucks are concerned, so-called "single-unit trucks" can be every bit as dangerous as their larger cousins, the super-sized 18-wheel interstate carriers.

Occupants in a smaller vehicle that is involved in a rear-end crash with a commercial truck -- virtually any type of truck -- can be swept beneath that truck, with the potential for disaster being clear and entailing catastrophic consequences.

Officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are well aware of that risk for passenger vehicles, and are proposing that all single-unit trucks -- defined as trailer-free vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds -- be outfitted with rear-impact guards.

Safety regulators believe that the safety-enhancing benefits of rear-underride crash protection are well worth the cost.

They also believe that making single-unit trucks more readily visible from behind is a goal that needs to be quickly realized. Agency officials are making an eminently simple recommendation to achieve that aim, namely, the affixing of reflective tape on the back of trucks.

NHTSA safety proposals do not become law that governs truckers across California and the rest of the country through mere pronouncement; rather, there is a prescribed and lengthy process for turning a safety recommendation into a final rule affecting the trucking industry nationally.

The NHTSA's recommendations regarding rear-impact protection and increased visibility for single-unit trucks signify a very early step in the rulemaking process. The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking just issued by the agency will now be followed by a public comment period, after which the NHTSA will take further action. Ultimately, the proposals regarding rear underride guards and reflective taping of vehicles could be enacted as a final safety rule.

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