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In Praise of Mudflaps

How Not To Stir Up Trouble

Supercomputing in Action

We knew that sooner or later we’d get around to mudflaps.

Now is our time.

To be clear, we’re talking about the sheets behind tires or the back of wheel wells that reduce the amount of debris, like rocks and pieces of loose asphalt, that tires can kick up and launch backwards to other vehicles or pedestrians.

Writer Kris Rutherford has a terrific recent piece in The Trucker on the history of mud flaps. (We highly recommend it, not least for his eyebrow-raising stories of cleanup techniques in southern Maine back in the day.)

He describes the work of Darlene Norman, whose research found that Oscar Glenn March Sr., motor pool driver for the U.S. armed forces, invented the mudflap:

“March designed tarps to trap the water and rocks. His mud flap was modified, and soon every tractor rig operating at Tinker was equipped with them. Not only did this invention prevent damage to the cargo, but it also prevented damage or injury to following vehicles and their occupants. The law now requires the use of mud flaps on big rigs.”

The tarps were originally made of canvas. Today they’re typically made of material like rubber and composite materials that are flexible yet maintain shape while absorbing the impacts.

Now, natch, we have mudflaps 3.0. They’re aerodynamic. They have louvers or ventilation “to improve airflow, reduce sidespray, and decrease aerodynamic drag, in order to improve fuel efficiency.” And just to confirm that mudflaps are not some antiquated afterthought, “Supercomputing technology applied to the problem of semi-trailer truck drag has helped to validate such aerodynamic improvements.”

There you go. Supercomputing is contributing to your Mini Cooper’s ability to share the road peacefully with a Peterbilt.

Here’s the rub: mudflaps are not federally regulated. It’s up to the states to create and enforce mudflap rules. So, what happens when a driver in Georgia (mudflaps required) contracts to deliver freight from Atlanta to Charlotte, North Carolina (no mudflap requirements) via South Carolina (no mudflap requirements)?

Experienced third-party logistics companies are here to figure out such things on behalf of their customers.

Thank you, Oscar Glenn March Sr. Thank you, Kris Rutherford. Thank you, mudflaps.