Most accidents with semi trucks are devastating, but underride accidents can be particularly awful. That’s why the crash test report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) this past May is so important. According to the IIHS, their crash tests show that underride guards “have the potential to save lives.”
What Is an Underride Accident?
An underride accident occurs when a car crashes into a semi truck from behind or the sides and gets stuck underneath. This flattens the vehicle or slices off the top of it and often kills or severely injures the driver and/or passengers in the car.
Federal data shows that around 5,000 deaths from 1994 to 2014 were the result of underride accidents. Recent data suggests that side underride accidents result in the deaths of 200 people a year.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires semi trucks to have guards on their backs, but doesn’t mandate any guards on the sides of the vehicles.
IIHS Crash Tests
The IIHS ran two crash tests at 35 miles per hour. One involved an underride guard, and the other involved a side skirt made of fiberglass meant to make the semi more aerodynamic, not to prevent underride accidents.
When the test car crashed into the underride guard, the guard bent from the force of the impact, but it successfully stopped the car from sliding underneath the semi.
But when the test car crashed into the aerodynamic side skirt, it didn’t stop. It slid underneath the semi truck, and the truck sliced off part of the car’s roof.
Currently, only 28 percent of a 53-foot trailer is protected from underride without a side guard. With a side guard, that number jumps to 62 percent.
Why Aren’t Underride Guards Mandatory?
Underride guards aren’t mandatory, and not everyone in the trucking industry wants them to be. Installing underride guards is expensive, and as seen in the IIHS crash tests, they likely need to be made from tougher materials than fiberglass in order to be effective. Underride guards also add weight to semi trucks, which either makes the trucks dangerous to drive or requires drivers to lighten their loads, which prevents them from transporting the most cargo possible.
This isn’t the first time, though, that underride has been a problem. When SUVs surged in popularity in the 1990s, their elevated passenger compartments caused greater damage to other cars in the event of a collision. Regulators responded quickly and worked to create SUVs that are less dangerous to other vehicles on the road.
Underride guards along the sides of semi trucks may be more appealing to the industry if they came with added benefits, such as making the truck more aerodynamic. AngelWing, the underride guard used in the IIHS crash test, was made by Airflow Deflector, Inc. and integrates with traditional truck side skirts, allowing truck drivers to maximize protection for other drivers on the road in case of a collision while also saving on fuel by maintaining an aerodynamic design.
As far as making underride guards mandatory goes, the United States is trailing behind other countries around the world. In Europe, for example, side and rear underride guards have been mandatory since 1989.
Help from an Indiana Semi Truck Accident Attorney
Semi truck accidents typically cause much more significant damage and injury than accidents with only passenger vehicles involved. Depending on what caused the accident, the parties that may be held liable include the following:
- Truck driver
- Trucking company
- Truck manufacturer
- Company that loaded the truck
- Company that maintains the truck
If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident with a semi truck, Hensley Legal Group can help. Call us today or contact us online for a free consultation.