Do Semi-Truck Underride Guards Really Work as Intended?

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Wagner Reese, LLP

Carmel, IN

Practice Areas

Personal Injury, Trucking Accident, Medical Malpractice, Wrongful Death

In the United States, every day millions of passenger vehicles and semi-trucks travel alongside each other without incident. Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Due to the fact that passenger vehicles and semi-trucks vary greatly in every physical sense, especially weight and overall size, when collisions between the two occur, they often result in serious injuries or death.

What Can Be Done to Minimize Injuries in Truck-Vehicle Collisions?

There are actually many safety features that the semi-trucks have in place: blind-spot detectors, warning signs on the back of the trailers, fish-eye mirrors, multiple side and front mirrors, and underride guards. The last, underride guards, are a safety feature that is designed to prevent passenger vehicles from "riding" underneath the rear of a semi-truck in an accident. Underrides can occur at highway speeds, but also at lower speeds. A loaded semi-truck can weigh 80,000lbs, and is going to resist any force that a passenger vehicle is going to deliver in an accident.

What is an Underride Guard?

Underride guards are steel bar assemblies that are attached to the rear of the trailer that are designed to prevent a passenger vehicle from sliding underneath the rear of a semi-truck in the event of a crash.

Why are Underride Guards Important?

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), in 2011 260 individuals died as the result of passenger vehicles colliding with the rear of semi-trucks. And while underride guards are designed to help prevent fatal injuries, the IIHS is finding that there is still room for improvement. The IIHS has found that while current underride guards are useful in preventing and reducing fatal injuries in direct rear-end collisions, the current underride guards' effectiveness goes down when passenger vehicles do not run directly into the rear of the semi-trailers. If the passenger vehicle collision with the rear of a semi-truck is on the corner, or not a direct rear-end collision, the chance for the underride guard to be effective drops, which suggests that the current design of underride guards can be improved. Through testing, the IIHS found that a simple engineering re-design improved safety in offset rear-end collisions. Moreover, this change did not increase the weight or cost of the underride guard by any significant weight or monetary amount. The IIHS's findings in 2011 have prompted them to ask the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to review the current standards, and to see how this information can improve the current safety requirements.

What Can Passenger and Semi-Truck Drivers Do to Help Prevent Underride Crashes?

While it's impossible to eliminate all crashes, both semi-truck drivers and passenger vehicle drivers can do their part to help reduce the human error factor.

Passenger vehicle drivers need to be aware of semi-trucks, and understand semi-trucks cannot maneuver the same as cars. Specifically, drivers of passenger vehicles should not tailgate, should avoid semi-truck blind spots as much as possible, and should strive to reduce in-vehicle distractions.

Semi-truck drivers should do their part as well by maintaining a lookout for passenger vehicles around them, driving defensively, and keeping their equipment in good working order. Functioning brake lights are the first line of defense in alerting vehicles behind that a truck is stopping, and inoperable and/or unclean taillights consequently become a huge safety issue, especially at night.

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