Trucking accidents are often catastrophic because of the sheer size and weight of tractor-trailers. However, tractor-trailers are also extremely dangerous because of how high off of the ground they are. When vehicles run into the back of tractor-trailers they can slide underneath of the truck, catastrophically injuring or killing the passengers inside.
Regulators have been aware of this problem, known as truck underride accidents, for many decades. In the early 1950s, regulations were adopted requiring most heavy-duty trucks and trailers to be equipped with underride guards, which are steel frames that extend down from the rear truck frame and are intended to prevent cars from sliding underneath.
The problem is that the underride guards don’t always work and people continue to be killed in truck underride accidents. The regulations have only been moderately adapted since they were first implemented in 1953.
In 1996, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revised the standards for underride guards. They changed the size and strength requirements, lowered the guard-to-ground distance allowance, and mandated reflective tape on trucks. But the deaths continued.
In 2011, the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted crash tests demonstrating that three of the underride guard being sold buckled, broke or crashed through the windshield of vehicles upon impact. The IIHS asked the NHTSA to change the regulations to make the underride guards safer, but the request fell upon deaf ears.
Check back later this week for part two of our discussion, including how the mother of two teenagers who were killed in a truck underride accident may have finally gotten through to U.S. safety regulators.
Source: Bloomberg, “Mom Says $100 Truck Tweak Could Have Saved Her Daughters,” Jeff Plungis and David Voreacos, Dec. 15, 2014