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Underride guards: the push to make truck accidents less deadly

When a Louisiana passenger vehicle crashes into the back or side of a huge semitrailer truck, the results almost always are deadly. As Forbes reported earlier this year, when a car hits the high-riding trailer of a large truck, the car keeps going, sliding underneath the trailer and shearing off its roof in the process. Everyone in the car, especially the driver and front seat passenger, are at high risk for death by decapitation.

Federal law has required that all large trucks be fitted with a rear underride guard on their trailers since 1998, but the standards for those guards have never been upgraded. Today these 20-year-old standards are ineffective and weak at best. An underride guard is an extra metal bumper that hangs on the back of a truck’s trailer. Theoretically, such guards prevent a car from sliding underneath the trailer when a crash occurs. However, many underride guards are relatively flimsy and can break or buckle during a crash.

Crash test results

Back in 2011, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted tests to see how cars crashing into the back of a semitrailer truck faired when the trailer was fitted with a rear underride guard as compared to when no such guard existed. Based on the results of these tests, the IIHS asked the National Highway Safety Administration to upgrade rear underride guard safety standards. The NHSA has yet to do so.

As reported by CNN, the IIHS conducted additional tests in 2012 with regard to cars crashing into the sides of trailers. Once again, underride guards proved their usefulness. The IIHS concluded that installing strong side underride guards on high-riding trailers could reduce the risk of passenger vehicle injuries by nearly 90 percent. Nevertheless, to date there is no federal mandate for large truck trailers to be equipped with side underride guards.

Subsequent IIHS research data shows that in 2015, approximately half of the fatal car-truck crashes in America involved a car underriding a trailer. This amounts to 750 deaths each year. Underride guard advocates continue to lobby both the U.S. Department of Transportation and Congress for updated mandates and standards, but have not been successful thus far. They believe that only public outrage and widespread media coverage will bring about the needed changes to make America’s roads a safer place for passenger vehicles that crash into large semitrailer trucks.

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