The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that almost half of all fatalities involving tractor trailers are “underride” accidents. Unfortunately, there are no definitive studies that pinpoint the exact number of these accidents. Underride is the term used to describe when a smaller vehicle passes under the side or rear of the trailer portion of a truck. In many cases, the side of the trailer crashes through the windshield or even shears off the roof of the car.
When a smaller vehicle goes under a large truck, the safety features in the smaller vehicle are largely useless. Reinforced areas in the fronts and sides of cars that, by design, should lessen the impact during a crash instead pass right under the truck. These kinds of accidents are often fatal — and largely preventable. But the trucking industry has resisted changes to reduce underride tragedies, in favor of their bottom line.
Why do trucking companies hesitate?
For years, safety advocates like the IIHS, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Consumer Reports and others have supported legislation to require the trucking industry to install underride guards on the sides of all trucks. These guards, when properly designed, activate the safety features in smaller cars, stopping them from sliding under the truck. You may wonder if the reasons the trucking industry gives for refusing the make this change are justifiable:
- The extra weight of side guards means trucking companies will have to reduce their loads to comply with EPA fuel efficiency standards.
- Decreasing payloads means adding more trucks to highways, many of which are already dangerously overcrowded with commercial vehicles.
- Underride guards reduce the ground clearance for a tractor-trailer, which may create dangerous situations at loading docks, railroad crossings and other uneven surfaces.
- The rigid materials of the guards may crack and fail, which could be disastrous for a truck traveling at highways speeds.
- Requiring trucking companies to retrofit their trucks with underride guards would burden the industry with additional costs.
While these may seem legitimate reasons to hesitate in taking this step for safety, it is no consolation to the victims and families who have suffered an underride tragedy. If you are involved in a collision with a commercial vehicle, a good attorney will investigate the condition of the truck and whether it was outfitted with modern safety features to prevent or mitigate injuries in a crash scenario.