Could this Bipartisan Senate Bill Prevent Fatal Side Underride Crashes?

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Underride crashes are a horrific type of truck accident. An underride crash occurs when a smaller passenger vehicle is forced underneath the rear or side of a tractor-trailer during a collision. The tops of passenger vehicles can be sheared off and occupants are often decapitated.

In 1998, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated rear guards on tractor-trailers to prevent rear underride accidents. However, there are no rules that require tractor-trailers to use side or front guards. More than 200 people are killed each year in side underride accidents.

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have introduced the Stop
Underrides Act of 2017 to resolve this public safety threat. Tractor-trailers would be required to use front and side guards if the bill is signed into law. The bill would also institute strict inspection requirements for underride guards to ensure they remain in working order. This could go a long way toward these serious and often fatal truck accidents. You can read the full text of the bill online.

Do Underride Guards Prevent Injuries and Fatalities?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an organization that regularly crash tests vehicles, found that strong underride guards could prevent fatalities and injuries. Notice the emphasis on the word “strong.” In 2011, the IIHS conducted three crash tests on rear underride guards that met existing federal safety standards. Many of the rear guards broke or buckled during collisions. The Stop Underrides Act of 2017 could fix this problem by requiring underride guards to prevent a vehicle travelling at 35 miles per hour from passing underneath the trailer.

A 2012 study conducted by IIHS found that strong side underride guards could reduce the risk of injury in roughly 90 percent of side underride crashes involving tractor-trailers. This is compelling evidence that underrides could dramatically decrease injuries and deaths from underride accidents.

Underride accidents may sometimes involve collisions at very high speeds, which means there would be significantly greater impact forces. In 2016, a Tesla Model S driver using Autopilot collided with the side of a tractor-trailer at 65 miles per hour. The Tesla Model S travelled underneath the trailer and came out the other side, killing the occupant. Fortunately, the Stop Underrides Act of 2017 calls for research into underride guards that can prevent underrides at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour.

The Stop Underrides Act of 2017 is a welcome change to the status quo.

AUTHOR: Riddle & Brantley, LLP

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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