It's been firmly established that well-built underride guards on semi-trailers protect other vehicles that might otherwise slide underneath - an often fatal scenario. Despite this, there remains no federal provision requiring side underride guards on large trucks. Even on those trucks that have them, many are aging, weak and may crumple upon impact.
Two mothers who lost children in truck accidents involving underride collisions are working to change this. They are lobbying Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation to bolster federal guidelines for rear underride guards on trucks, and to create a new safety regulation that would require side underride guards on all semitrailers.
Speaking to NPR, the two say they shared a bond in grief. Now, they are fueling this into real action. They have penned legislation, named after their daughters, that would require rear and side underride guards on all trucks. The Roya, AnnaLeah & Mary Comprehensive Underride Protection Act of 2017 has received some support in Washington, but also push back.
Opposition to Change
In particular, the American Trucking Association (ATA) posits that the best way to prevent underride deaths is to prevent crashes in the first place. Some $9 billion in safety initiatives the association has invested have been for technologies such as automatic emergency braking, forward collision warnings and in-cabin cameras.
Although some companies have taken the initiative to install additional underride protections on their fleet, the ATA argues it shouldn't be required. They cite extensive costs, as well as what they claim would be modest returns. However, there is evidence to refute that position.
Testing Side Underride Guard Safety Improvements
A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ran two separate crash tests involving a passenger sedan and a 53-foot trailer. In the first test, the trailer had a side underride guard. In the second, the trailer did not.
In the first test, traveling 35 mph, the smaller car slammed into the side of the truck, but was repelled by the side guard. The seat belts restrained the passengers and airbags prevented them from flying through the windshield. But then in the second test, absent the side underride guards, the vehicle slid underneath the truck, violently sheering off the top of its roof and wedging the vehicle underneath. In a real-world crash, study authors concluded, any occupants in that vehicle would be dead.
Study authors took note of the fact that 1 in 5 people who died in collisions with heavy trucks did so because their vehicle traveled underneath the truck due to a lack of side guards. This figure has stayed consistent for the last two decades.
Meanwhile, passenger car deaths in rear-end collisions with heavy trucks have fallen since the implementation of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards Nos. 223 and 224, which require rear-underride guards on trucks over 10,000 pounds and set strength requirements for those guards. Still, those standards were set nearly 20 years ago, and the two mothers pushing the latest underride protection law say they should be revisited.
West Palm Beach truck accident attorneys recognize litigation involving trucking companies that are inherently more complex than crashes involving only passenger cars. This is not only because of the sheer amount of damage usually involved, but also because of the complex business structure of these firms.