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How better truck underride guards can save lives

Maryland drivers who crash into the back or side of a tractor-trailer face a grave risk of being killed. Forbes reports that when a car hits a trailer with a high underside, there is little to stop the car from sliding underneath, shearing off its hood, windshield and roof in the process.

The car’s driver and front seat passenger are likely to suffer death by decapitation. Back seat passengers face the same risk given the car’s speed at the moment of impact.

Outdated federal mandate

Since 1998, all large trailers have been required to have a rear underride guard; i.e., an extra metal bumper hanging from the back of the trailer. However, while it is comforting to believe that a rear underride guard will prevent a passenger vehicle from sliding underneath the trailer in a crash, such is not always the case. Rear underride guard standards have never been upgraded since the federal law went into effect, and many of today’s guards break or buckle in a crash.

In addition, the federal mandate does not extend to side underride guards. Given that many of today’s passenger vehicle occupants ride in compact cars that put them at eye level with the trailer’s wheels, such a governmental “oversight” is difficult if not impossible to fathom.

Crash test data

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety began testing rear underride guards in 2011. Results showed that strong guards could prevent a crashing car from sliding underneath the trailer. Nevertheless, the National Highway Safety Administration has never heeded the IIHS’s request that rear underride guard standards be updated. The IIHS conducted similar tests on side underride guards in 2012, concluding that they could reduce the risk of side underride injuries by upwards of 90 percent.

By 2015, CNN reported that IIHS data showed that nearly half of America’s fatal car-truck crashes involved an underride situation, amounting to 750 deaths per year. Despite these alarming statistics, however, and solid evidence that strong rear and side underride guards can save lives, the government has yet to act.

Advocates of underride guards continue to lobby Congress and the Department of Transportation for new laws and upgraded standards. They also work to garner as much media attention as possible in the hope that this will generate a groundswell of activism resulting in needed trucking law changes.

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