A recent series of crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that the underride guards standard with most U.S. big rigs pose a substantial risk of a passenger vehicle sliding under the truck in certain types of crashes.
Our Alabama truck accident lawyers know that finding out more about this problem is key because once a passenger vehicle slides under a large trailer, the risk of serious injury and fatality spikes significantly.
National standards require most semitrailers to be equipped with underride guards, which are steel bars that hang from the back of the trailer. The primary aim of the equipment is to prevent a passenger vehicle from sliding underneath the trailer in the event of a crash.
Previously-conducted research has suggested that the current minimum U.S. standards for these guards is not adequate enough to prevent a tragedy. As a result of that research, the IIHS petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration two years ago for increased standards and also to consider applying those standards to certain types of bigger trucks – like dump trucks – which at this point aren’t required to have any underride guards at all.
The bad news is the NHTSA has yet to respond.
The good news is that a lot of companies are installing underride guards that are better than currently required by the U.S. because six years ago, Canada began requiring the equipment to meet tougher standards. So trucks that regularly cross over the national border – and many do – have to be roadworthy if they want to continue doing business.
By proxy, that has meant safer trucks here in the U.S. One manufacturer has even begun selling the upgraded underride guards to U.S. truck companies, as a means to hopefully gradually prepare them for a policy shift.
Still, it’s not enough and, really, our own standards should be improved immediately.
As the IIHS continues to wait on the NHTSA for a response to its petition, it conducted its own series of crash tests on trailers from eight of the largest truck manufacturers in the country. All of those tested met both the U.S. and the Canadian standards, which require the equipment to hold up to a certain amount of force at certain points.
In each test, a small passenger vehicle traveling 35 miles per hour crashed into the rear of a parked truck. The tests involved crashing the vehicle at various angles. When hitting straight on and up through a 50 percent overlap, all eight trailers withstood the test, preventing the vehicle from sliding underneath.
However, when the angle was reduced to a 30 percent overlap, seven out of eight underride guards failed the test. The passenger vehicle slid underneath.
So meeting the current Canadian standard would be a good place for our traffic regulators to start – but they shouldn’t stop there.
The damage was bad enough with the truck sitting stationary. Imagine that kind of a crash on the highway, with a vehicle traveling 65 mph or faster.
New crash tests: Underride guards on most big rigs leave passenger vehicle occupants at risk in certain crashes, March 14, 2013, Press Release, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety