The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently held an all-day conference at its Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Va., on the issue of deadly truck underride crashes. The topic of discussion at this conference, attended by trucking industry executives, government officials and safety activists, was that big trucks need improved underride guards.
In underride crashes, a passenger vehicle crashes into a tractor-trailer truck or straight truck from behind or from the side and jams underneath the truck, flattening the passenger compartment and injuring or killing the vehicle’s occupants. Underride can also happen when bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists slide under the body of a truck and are in danger of being run over. There are federal regulations in place that require trailers and some straight trucks to be equipped with rear underride guards, which are bars that hang down on the back of the truck and trailer. In fact, regulations requiring modest underride guards have been in place in the U.S. since 1953. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently considering a new standard for the guards; a stronger underride guard.
As a demonstration, IIHS, an insurance industry trade group, crash-tested a latest-design Stoughton trailer, slamming a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu into the back of the trailer hooked to a semi-tractor and laden with 34,100 lbs. The collision occurred at 35 mph, the speed at which federal regulations require that a vehicle is strong enough so that its occupants survive a crash. The test was successful in that the newly designed rear underride guard did not intrude into the passenger compartment, therefore making the crash survivable.
The main change to the bars would be four supports across the horizontal bar instead of the current two. The new bars are on the outer ends of the bar, and all are fastened to a more robust undercarriage. Currently, Manac, Vanguard, Wabash and Stoughton trailers pass the institute’s crash test; however, Great Dane, Hyundai, Strick and Utility do not. One manufacturer says the fix is easy, doesn’t add a lot of extra weight and is not expensive – costing only $20. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believes the fix is much costlier than this. However, IIHS disputes that and disagrees with the agency. Regardless, the cost and extra weight should not be an undue burden for independent owners-operators.
There was also discussion at the conference that semi-trailer side skirts, currently used for fuel-saving streamlining, could be made more rugged to also serve as underride prevention devices in side crashes. Many cities are putting side guards on their trucks to protect pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcycle riders. These are further steps taken in the right direction to decrease the number of people who are killed each year in underride accidents.
Our firm has successfully handled a number of underride cases over the years for clients who lost loved ones in a crash. If you would like to have more information relating to the underride issue, contact Chris Glover, a lawyer in our Personal Injury / Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Chris.Glover@beasleyallen.com.
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