Mr. Gerald W. Remillard
Best Trailer Corporation
3614 Badger Road
Kewaskum, WI 53040
Dear Mr. Remillard:
This responds to your letter requesting an interpretation of whether two tilt bed trailer designs that your company is considering manufacturing would be excluded from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA's) rear impact protection (underride guard) regulations. As explained below, trailer design #1 probably is excluded as a low chassis vehicle, while trailer design #2 is not excluded, and a compliant underride guard would need to be provided.
Although you did not give bed height dimensions, the diagrams on the literature you enclosed with your letter indicate that the bottom of the bed on both vehicles is more than 560 mm above the ground. Design #1 has at the rear of the bed a full width vertical cross member, which you refer to as a rear channel, with the tail lamps set within it. This channel extends below the lower surface of the bed of the trailer and you state that its bottom surface is less than 560 mm above the ground. There are also two flip up approach ramps, which you refer to as "flipper ramps," that bridge the gap between the ground and the bed when the trailer bed is tilted, and flip over and lie on top of the trailer bed during transit. Design # 2 has at the back of the bed a triangular full width "approach ramp" that allows cargo equipment to transition from the ground up onto the bed without encountering the "bump" of the edge of the bed. When the bed is placed into the horizontal position, for transit, the approach ramp is mechanically or pneumatically lowered to hang from the rear of the trailer in a near vertical position in which the lower edge of the plate is less than 560 mm above the ground.
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 224, Rear impact protection, requires most trailers and semitrailers weighing over 10,000 pounds to be fitted at the rear with a rear impact (underride) guard meeting the requirements of Standard No. 223, Rear impact guards (49 CFR 571.223 and 571.224, published on January 24, 1996 at 61 FR 2004). However, certain kinds of vehicles are excluded. The only excluded categories that are relevant for the purposes of this letter are low chassis vehicles and special purpose vehicles.
Low chassis vehicles are defined in S4 of Standard No. 224 as "a trailer or semitrailer having a chassis that extends behind the rearmost point of the rearmost tires and a lower rear surface that meets the configuration requirements of S5.1.1 through 5.1.3 of this section." In other words, the chassis itself must satisfy the configuration requirements applicable to a guard when the vehicle is outfitted for transit. The only part of your vehicles that may meet these configuration requirements is the rear channel of Design #1 and the approach ramp of Design #2, so the question becomes whether these are considered to be part of the "chassis" of the vehicles. Chassis is defined in S4 as "the load supporting frame structure of a motor vehicle." There are two elements to this definition that must be satisfied: "load supporting" and "frame structure."
To be considered "load supporting," the frame structure has to support load when the trailer is performing its function. Generally, this means that the structure would have to contribute to supporting the cargo load when the trailer is in transit.
To be considered part of the frame structure, a structural member must be either an integral part of the overall frame structure, or be connected with other frame structural members in a way that is necessary to the structural integrity of the trailer. One factor the agency considers in deciding whether a structural member is part of the frame is its size and strength. Frame structural components often are the major structures defining the shape of the trailer. Although frame structure is not limited to the largest frame components (i.e., the frame rails for most trailers), generally frame components are substantial and have strength similar to other frame components. Moveable components may "lock" into the frame structure sufficiently that they are integral with other frame members-in this situation NHTSA may consider the combined components to be one frame unit. However, the agency also looks at the purpose and function of the structural member in supporting the trailer and its load.
We conclude that the rear channel of Design #1 is part of the chassis. It directly supports the load of the trailer. The rear channel is an integral part of the overall frame structure of the trailer. It is of similar size and strength to the other structural members such as the side rails, and it helps define the boundary of the trailer bed. Since a chassis member meets the configurational requirements of S5.1.1 through S5.1.3, Design #1 is excluded from the underride guard regulations.
Applying these principles to your Design #2, we find that the approach ramp is not part of the chassis. The approach ramp does not meet the "load supporting" aspect of the chassis definition because the approach ramp does not contribute to supporting cargo load. The ramp is also not part of the frame structure of the trailer. The approach ramp does not define the shape of the trailer. Instead, it hangs down from the rear end of the trailer, forming a protrusion from the outline of the trailer bed. Neither the approach plate nor the steel plate arms attaching the approach plate to the sides of the trailer bed are of a similar size or strength to the other frame components. The approach plate is not locked into another frame structural member in any manner, and is not considered integral with another frame member. In consideration of these factors the approach ramp it is not part of the frame structure, but an attachment. The approach ramp is not part of the chassis, and Design #2 is not a low chassis vehicle.
We turn now to the question of whether Design #2 is excluded as a special purpose vehicle. A special purpose vehicle is defined in S4 of FMVSS No. 224 as "a trailer or semitrailer having work-performing equipment that, while the vehicle is in transit, resides in or moves through the area that could be occupied by the horizontal member of the rear underride guard, as defined by S5.1.1 through S5.1.3."(1) Again, the approach ramp is the only part of your Design #2 trailer that, while the vehicle is in transit, resides in the area that could be occupied be the rear underride guard. Therefore, the approach ramp would have to be considered work-performing equipment for the trailer to be excluded.
There is no definition in the standard for "work-performing equipment." In determining the meaning of regulatory language, the first place the agency looks is the plain meaning of the words. In the context which is relevant to this safety standard, "work" is defined as "the transfer of energy from one physical system to another; especially, the transfer of energy to a body by the application of force . . ." "Perform" is defined as "to begin and carry through to completion; do." American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1971. Taken together, NHTSA interprets the words "work-performing" to mean that the equipment must actively perform its function, and that the function must involve exerting force or moving something else. Approach ramps do not perform work in this sense because they merely form a ramp between the ground and the vehicle driving onto the tilt bed.(2) Therefore, the approach ramp is not work-performing equipment, and the vehicle does not meet the definition of a special purpose vehicle.
Since your trailer does not meet the definition of an excluded category, it would have to be equipped with an underride guard meeting our standards. We cannot provide specific guidance on how your Design #2 trailer might be redesigned to accommodate a guard. We note, however, that other manufacturers of tilt bed trailers have told us that they have found engineering solutions that would meet the requirements of the standard without compromising the function of their vehicles. Some of them are using guard designs that deploy when in the flatbed configuration and automatically retract when in the tilted configuration.
Another option to consider is whether your approach ramp could "be" the guard. The approach plate already appears to meet the configurational requirements for an underride guard. If it does not currently meet the strength and energy absorption requirements, you might be able to reinforce or otherwise modify the approach ramp sufficiently so that it would pass these requirements. If you can do this, the approach ramp itself could be labeled and certified as a guard under Standard No. 223, Rear impact guards. Perhaps some of these solutions would work for you, as they have for other manufacturers of tilt bed trailers. We emphasize that you, as the manufacturer of the vehicle, are responsible for the vehicle's compliance.
If you have difficulty redesigning your trailer, the agency would consider a petition for temporary exemption from Standard No. 224. Under one of our regulations (49 CFR Part 555), vehicle manufacturers may apply for a temporary exemption from the Federal motor vehicle safety standards. Under Sec. 555.6(a), a manufacturer whose yearly production is not more than 10,000 units may ask for an exemption of up to three years on the basis that compliance would cause it substantial economic hardship and that it has attempted in good faith to comply with the standard from which it has asked to be excused. We have enclosed a copy of Part 555 for your information. We have also enclosed a copy of our regulations relating to the protection of confidential business information. Most of the trailer manufacturers submitting petitions for temporary exemption have requested that their financial information remain confidential.
Please note Part 555 requires the agency to publish a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comment on each exemption petition before a decision can be made on such a request, and then publish a second notice either granting or denying the petition. This process normally takes three to four months from the date of submittal.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Paul Atelsek of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel
1. Note that this definition, as quoted, reflects an amendment made in response to petitions for reconsideration of the final rule. An unnecessary reference to pipe equipment containing hazardous materials was eliminated. See 63 F.R. 3654 (January 26, 1998).
2. To the extent that this interpretation is inconsistent with interpretation letters to Mr. Thomas M. Joyce and Mr. R. H. Anderson of Landoll Corporation, interpreting the frame rails of tilt bed trailers as work-performing equipment, those prior interpretations are superceded. The basic answer in those letters did not depend on this point, and the analysis in this letter is more thorough.