The NHTSA Considers New Safety Standards To Underride Guards On Trucks

Dallas, 10/17/2016 /SubmitPressRelease123/

One of the biggest dangers posed by commercial trucks is that they are built higher off the ground than passenger vehicles, making them much more susceptible to underride accidents.

Underride truck accidents occur when a passenger vehicle crashes into a commercial truck, and rolls under the truck from the rear or from the side, often destroying the entire top compartment of the vehicle, and resulting in fatalities.

Since 1953, commercial trucks have been required by law to have rear underride guards, but there are no regulations requiring guards on the sides of trucks, which means that a huge safety gap exists that has led to fatalities when a car skids beneath the side of one of these vehicles. The other issue is that not all guards are built with the same level of quality.

While the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made rear underride guards mandatory on all commercial trucks, it has not set standards as to the type of material, or the quality of material required in these guards. As a result, some of these guards, which are made of cheap material, provide no barrier against a vehicle passing beneath a truck.

NHTSA Seeks Higher Safety Standards

In an effort to lower the number of accidents in which small passenger vehicles crash underneath a commercial truck, the NHTSA is considering new proposals to make underride guards safer.

“Big trucks are not in any way crash-friendly,” stated Robert Molloy, Director of Highway Safety at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). And noting that underride guards have been on the market for more than 50 years, he added, “It’s incredible that we have vehicles today that we can underride.”

The NHTSA has not made public what changes in safety standards it is seeking, but they have invited the public – including auto safety experts – to comment on the issue.

Recent Conference On Fatal Underride Accidents

In May, truck company owners, safety experts, and government representatives met at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, VA at an all-day conference regarding fatal underride crashes. While all attendees agreed that commercial trucks posed a deadly risk for underride accidents, opinions differed on how to correct the problem.

That’s because truck owners are concerned with how much it would cost to upgrade the guards on their vehicles, and whether the increased weight of those guards would force them to decrease their payloads, cutting into their profits.

To show the effectiveness of newer-designed underride guards, the IIHS conducted a crash-test with a Stoughton trailer that was equipped with an upgraded barrier made with steel bars.

A 2010 Chevrolet Malibu was smashed into the rear of the truck’s trailer that was carrying a 34,100-pound payload. The Malibu was traveling at 35 miles per hour, the standard speed determined by the government at which a passenger vehicle’s occupants can survive a collision. The test was successful, as the trailer’s upgraded guard prevented the Malibu from passing all the way under the truck, making it likely that the passengers would have survived.

The Stoughton-made rear bars will come standard in late 2016, although the exact cost to truck owners was not disclosed. What makes these bars different is that they have four supports across the horizontal bar, instead of the two bars, which are standard. And the bars have been fortified so that they are more durable, and can withstand greater impact.

In an effort to assuage the fears of truck company owners who may have to purchase upgraded bars in the future, the President of Manac, a trailer manufacturer, said that his company could make the necessary fixes for as little as $20, and with a weight addition of only 20 pounds.

But the NHTSA has reported that the upgrades would cost about $2,000, though the IIHS said that number was too high.

John Housego, a North Carolina resident, said that he owns a 2010 Freightliner semi-tractor, and a 2015 Great Dane Trailer, and that he believes side skirts that are now in use to make trucks more fuel-efficient, could double as side underride guards.

Robert Martineau, Chief Executive of Airflow Deflector, and a manufacturer of commercial truck side panels echoed this idea. Martineau said that he could retrofit his panels to make them stronger, so they could also act as crash deflectors, but did not provide an estimation of the costs.

Disputed Underride Accident Fatality Stats

As the government tries to lower the number of commercial truck underride accidents, there is some dispute over the statistics regarding fatalities that occur from these crashes. The most credible source for these stats comes from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a federal database.

According to FARS, from 1994 to 2014, there were 5,081 fatalities directly related to underride accidents.

In 2014 – the last year for which statistics are available – there were 228 deaths resulting from cars that slid under commercial trucks. What’s more troubling is that the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine (AAAM) reported in 2013 that side crash deaths were likely three times higher than data collected by FARS.

There was no explanation given as to why the FARS stats are lower than what AAAM is reporting, but part of the reason could be that FARS has grouped all undercarriage accidents into one category, without differentiating between rear and side crashes.

Recent Underride Crashes In Texas

There have been a number of recent underride accidents involving trucks and passenger vehicles in Texas.

Austin, TX — In December 2015, a Chevy Tahoe smashed into an 18-wheeler, slid under the commercial truck, and briefly caught fire. The accident occurred at about 5:00 a.m. at the 5119 E. 7th St, when the SUV crashed into the semi-truck that was backing into a parking lot. The SUV was traveling at a high rate of speed when it hit the side of the 18-wheeler and slid underneath the massive commercial vehicle.

It took a rescue crew 45 minutes to extract the driver who miraculously survived the ordeal, and was taken to the hospital in serious condition. According to Austin Police Department Corporal Chad Martinika, the damage to the front of the SUV was one of the worst he’s seen in an accident.

San Antonio, TX – In January 2015, a woman was killed when the Subaru sedan she was driving slid underneath a semi-trailer. The crash occurred at about 7 a.m. on Culebra Road and Old FM 471 Outside Loop 1604. The commercial truck was making a turn on a residential street in Waterford Park that was under construction, when the Subaru hit the truck, and wedged itself underneath.

The woman – whose name was not disclosed – was pronounced dead at the scene.

“It was dark, and so it’s possible that the driver may not have been paying attention, may not have noticed that truck,” stated James Keith, a spokesperson for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. “That’s what we believe happened, since it appeared that it got lodged underneath.”

Keith also said that the commercial truck driver – who was not injured in the accident – would be cited for pulling out into oncoming traffic.

Allen, TX – In August 2016 at about 12:18 a.m., the driver of a Ford Mustang traveling southbound on Texas 121 near Stacy Road, lost control of his vehicle, causing it to strike a concrete barrier. The Mustang then veered across the road, and slid under the trailer of an 18-wheeler. The truck pulled over to the side of the road with the Mustang still in its undercarriage.

Authorities investigating the crash were not sure why the driver of the Mustang – who was pronounced dead at the scene – lost control of his vehicle.

The truck driver was not injured in the accident.

Making Trucks Safer

As the government prepares to issue new regulations regarding underride barriers on commercial trucks, the issue remains whether truck carriers will comply with these regulations if it negatively affects their ability to make a profit.

“No matter what type of upgrades the government proposes, it really depends on the truck company owners,” said Amy Witherite, partner at Eberstein & Witherite. “The problem is one of vigilance and compliance, and some of these smaller truck companies won’t spend money on an upgraded impact guard, because it will cut into their profit.”

In fact, there are thousands of smaller independent truck owners who often operate without any oversight by the government, because they are unlicensed.

“So even with new regulations,” Witherite added, “there will still be thousands of commercial trucks out there that don’t install the upgraded guards, and may not have any guards at all. And many of these smaller carriers are sending out trucks that are just ticking time bombs that will go off when small passenger vehicles strikes the rear of those trucks, and get stuck underneath.”

Obtaining Justice

Underride accidents are tragic events that can devastate an entire family. At Eberstein & Witherite, LLP we believe that you shouldn’t have to worry about anything other than getting well after you’ve been involved in a truck crash. Call us at 1-800-Truck-Wreck today, and speak to one of the lawyers at Eberstein & Witherite. You can also fill out the online form, and a member of our team will respond immediately.

Media Contact

Lucy Tiseo

Eberstein & Witherite, LLP

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