Public Outcry Could Soon Lead to Safer Commercial Trucks

The recent deaths of four people from a multi-vehicle crash one late July night on an interstate highway in New York were the latest tragedies connected to the absence of underride truck guards – steel guards on the sides of commercial trucks that can prevent cars from becoming wedged underneath these large vehicles in a wreck.  The victims – in two separate cars – were all killed instantly when they plowed underneath the same milk tanker truck that jackknifed after suddenly swerving to avoid hitting a deer. Among those calling for the federal government to require large commercial trucks to be equipped with “underride guards” to prevent these kinds of deaths is U.S. New York Senator Charles Schumer. “Requiring trucks to be equipped with underride guards is a proven technology that will save lives and make our roads safer,” he said.  Others call for not only tractor-trailers to have these guards, but single-unit trucks, such as dump trucks and large single-axle box trucks. An underride accident happens when a passenger vehicle crashes into a semi-tractor trailer or a straight truck – primarily from the side – and becomes wedged underneath.  This flattens the passenger compartment and often peels back the top of the car, severely injuring or killing the vehicle’s occupants. The term also applies to what happens when bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists slide under the body of a truck, usually from the side, and are in danger of being run over. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 4,000 people have been killed in collisions involving underrides between 1994 and 2014. Of that number, around 1,530 of these fatalities were related to side underride crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering a new standard for truck side protective guards after the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted a series of tests a few years ago which inspired the NHTSA to re-think – but not yet modify – its current side crash protection standards. In their research, cars “T-boned” the trucks with and without these side protective devices, going 35 mph.   Because of the relatively slow speed used in the study, some wonder if the prospective standards might not go far enough to prevent deadly underride crashes at higher speeds. Officials in both insurance and trucking industries believe that maybe the IIHS should have broadened its study to include higher speeds. But David Zuby, executive vice president and chief research officer for IIHS, says he already believes “a mandate for side underride guards on large trucks has merit, especially as crash deaths continue to rise on our roads.” Some truck manufacturers are already converts to these side-crash protection safety devices. Companies such as Great Dane, Manac, Stoughton Trailers, Vanguard National Trailer, and Wabash are installing these devices – called AngelWings – to many of their vehicles. This isn’t the first time public outcry has influenced improvements in truck safety. In 1967, Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield and her companions were hurtling down a highway late at night when their large Buick Electra slammed into the rear of an 18-wheeler. Since there were no barriers to prevent the vehicle from sliding underneath the rig, the Electra was wedged underneath the trailer so violently that the car’s hard top was peeled away to the back seat.  Mansfield, her attorney, and the driver were all killed instantly. Because of these shocking and gruesome deaths, within months the NHTSA made it mandatory for all semi and single-axle truck trailers to be fitted with under-ride bars to curb such accidents; they are now commonly called “Mansfield Bars.” If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s negligence, contact a truck wreck lawyer at the Johnson Law Firm using our online form or call us at 606-433-6802.

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