Trucking accidents are among the most dangerous and deadly of all collisions – particularly for the drivers and passengers of automobiles that collide with trucks. In fact, in 2009, 3,163 people died in large truck crashes in the United States, and 70 percent of those deaths were the drivers and passengers of cars, not trucks.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, around 423 people die each year in the United States when, for various reasons, their vehicle strikes the rear end of a large truck. An additional 5,000 Americans are injured each year in such crashes.
One of the main reasons for deaths in such collisions is the problem of underride, or a portion of the car moving underneath the tractor-trailer. Only around 22 percent of such crashes do not result in underride. And in the vast majority of such crashes where a fatality occurs, there was severe underride – meaning that at least the front end of the vehicle slid underneath the truck.
But how can this occur? Shouldn’t the rear underride guard on these large trucks prevent underride, and thus prevent these deaths?
In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has conducted crash testing on the underride guards on tractor-trailers. This testing demonstrated that these underride guards can fail, even in lower-speed crashes. And when a tractor-trailer’s underride guard fails, the results can be fatal.
That is why the IIHS is petitioning federal regulators at the NHTSA to change the standards governing underride guards for tractor trailers. The experienced trucking accident attorneys of Passen & Powell believe standards for undderide guards must be strong enough to keep these essential safety tools in place in a crash.
Moreover, all large trucks and trailers should be required to have an underride guards. Unfortunately, the current regulations allow many trucks to avoid installing undderride guards. And on the trucks that are exempt from the requirement of guards, any guard may be used: even a guard that does not comply with the already-lax federal standards.
The front end of a car is designed to manage crash energy to minimize injuries and deaths in a front-end collision. But when a vehicle crashes into a truck and underride occurs, the lower portion of the car, which is usually used to distribute that crash energy, moves underneath the truck, and the truck body smashes into the vehicles safety cage surrounding the passenger compartment. The passenger compartment then collapses.
Thus, even cars which receive top safety ratings can be of no use in a crash when underride occurs. Even low-speed crashes, which would otherwise be survivable, can be fatal if a truck has no underride guard, or if the guard fails. In fact, testing has shown that when a rear underride guard fails, crashes at as low as 35 miles per hour can result in the decapitation of the automobile’s driver and/or passengers.
And even the best of the current underride guards provide little protection if the collision is not centered on the rear of the truck – that is, if a car strikes the back of the truck but off to one side or the other. The top tractor-trailer crash lawyers of Passen & Powell add our voice to that of the IIHS encourage the NHTSA to take action on this problem immediately.