By JW Law
Last year a driver of a Tesla Model S was tragically killed when his car rammed into the side of a tractor-trailer. The car- which was reportedly traveling at 80 MPH in an autopilot mode- was sheared off when it went underneath a truck. This high profile accident fired up a debate on self-driving car technology. However, there is another part to this horrific accident that is not addressed as much; a more pressing transportation safety issue – deaths caused by side underride collision.
According to official figures, each year roughly 200 motorists are killed when their cars plow into the sides of big-rig trailers that have high ground clearance. CBS North Carolina measured this uncovered space between the road and the bottom of a trailer to about 42 inches, which just happens to match the height where most people sit in a vehicle. In an accident, these motorists fall into the exposed area between the front and the rear wheels and suffer fatal crushing.
But many of these gruesome underride deaths can be significantly reduced, according to a new research conducted by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an auto safety group funded by insurers.
The institute conducted crash tests on trailer trucks with and without side guards. The research showed that a well-built guard could prevent vulnerable road users -pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and motorists from being run over by a large truck’s rear wheels in a side-impact collision.
“It prevented the car from going underneath, and consequently the airbags and seat belts were able to protect the driver dummy in those crash tests,” said David Zuby, who is the chief research officer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Video Courtesy: IIHS
Side guards can work by covering the exposed area and shielding the victims from getting swept beneath the truck’s rear wheels, but as of now, they are not mandated by federal law. For years the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has required large trucks to have rear underride guard, but not along the sides.
Why are side guards not mandated?
“The (trucking) industry has always argued that it would be too expensive to install side guards, but many of the same truck and trailer manufacturers are already building and installing these guards in their trucks in the UK and Europe,” explained Lawrence Simon, who heads Javerbaum Wurgaft’s Trucking Litigation Department. “This is the same industry that resisted rear underride guards for many years. The well publicized crash involving Jayne Mansfield made the public think about rear underride, and call for change. The time is now for side underride guards.”
Simon is also a frequent lecturer and contributor on trucking issues throughout the United States, and has investigated and researched side underride systems that are in place in the UK and Europe and being developed in Canada.
In the absence of a federal rule, individual cities including New York, Boston, and Seattle, have made it mandatory to outfit municipally-owned and/or contracted trucks with side guards as part of their Vision Zero initiatives to eliminate crash deaths and injuries.
If you or somebody you love was seriously injured or killed in a gruesome side underride accident, you will need help from an attorney. Our trucking accident lawyers have decades of experience in investigating the causes of truck accidents and who is responsible. We will be with you every step of the way as you go through this ordeal, to ensure you get the compensation you deserve.