According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 4,000 people were killed in collisions involving underride between 1994 and 2014. Of that number, about 1,530 were related to side underride crashes. Recent tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that protective side panels at the bottom of trucks would prevent deaths from passenger vehicles sliding underneath.
In 2017, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ran two 35 mph crash tests, one with a side underride protection device from Airflow Deflector Inc. called an AngelWing and the other with a side skirt made of fiberglass meant only to improve aerodynamics, not prevent side underride. Those tests showed AngelWing side guards stopped passenger cars from sliding underneath, while cars that hit trucks equipped with only a fiberglass skirt did not stop and became lodged underneath the trailer, after the truck had sheared off part of the car’s roof.
David Zuby, executive vice president and chief research officer for IIHS said “Our tests and research show that side underride guards have the potential to save lives. We think a mandate for side underride guards on large trucks has merit, especially as crash deaths continue to rise on our roads.”
Regulators Delay Acting on Life Saving Side Underride Guards
Steel bars hanging from the backs of truck trailers called underride guards have been required on trucks since 1967 when a car slid beneath the back end of a big rig, instantly killing its driver. Due to the celebrity status of the car’s driver, media attention to the horrific crash prompted new federal regulations requiring protective underride guards on the back of all big rigs. Nothing, however, was done to prevent side underride crashes.
Fast forward to 2016, when Joshua Brown’s Tesla Model S fatally collided with the side of a big rig that sheared off the top of his sedan as it slid under the truck. Side underride guards on the truck would have stopped the slide, so that air bags and seat belt could have prevented his death.
Two Mothers Suffering Loss Seek Legislative Action
Mary Karth, mother of nine children, with a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Michigan has joined with another mother, Lois Durso in drafting legislation aimed at preventing underride crashes, called the Roya, AnnaLeah and Mary Comprehensive Underride Protection Act of 2017.
Durso lost her 26-year-old daughter, Roya Sadigh, in a side underride crash twelve years ago. In 2013, Karth’s teenage daughters AnnaLeah and Mary died from injuries sustained in a rear underride crash, where Karth’s car was hit by a truck, spun, was hit again and shoved backwards under another semi-trailer, flattening the rear compartment where her children were sitting. Since their deaths, Karth has been advocating for legislative and regulatory reform to mandate underride guards and strengthen existing rear underride guard standards.
Trucking Industry Waits for Federal Side Underride Guard Mandate
About half of all collisions between semis and passenger vehicles involve underride. Tests in 2012 showed that side underride guards could reduce those fatalities by 90 percent, saving between 150 and 200 lives in the U.S. each year.
As of 2017, Tractor-trailers are required under federal regulations to have underride guards on their rears, but not on their sides. Many feel that the majority of fleets will adopt side guards only if and when forced by the government.
The profit-driven trucking industry believes that side guards would make trailers heavier, more expensive and more costly to maintain. Some also rationalize that heavier trailers would increase truck traffic and more crashes because more trailers would be needed to carry the freight displaced by the increased weight of the trailer.
As more lives are lost to side underride crashes, the trucking industry waits for government mandate to level the playing field for all within the industry. Until then, we will continue to see car and truck fatalities that government regulation could have prevented.
For more information about trucking laws and liability, visit our website at: www.portlandtruckaccidentlawyer.com.
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