Would Better Truck Underride Guards Prevent Fatal Truck Crashes?

The death of a Hollywood bombshell almost 50 years ago brought to the forefront one particular danger of truck design. While her fatal truck crash prompted public outcry, little was done to address the design flaw for many years. And even with revisions in the interim, the serious flaw remains today.

In 1967, the actress Jayne Mansfield died when her car slid under the back end of a tractor trailer. The bottom of the trailer sheared off the top half of her car.

Fourteen years previous to this tragedy, the government mandated underride guards for large tractor trailers. A truck underride guard sits on the back end of a trailer. It’s a horizontal piece of metal attached to the trailer by two vertical pieces.

The underride guard standards did not prevent Jayne Mansfield’s death.

Her accident prompted calls for further action to prevent similar truck accident fatalities. But nothing of any substance was done for three decades.

In 1997, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety determined that about half of all fatal truck crashes involved a passenger car sliding under a truck. In 1998, federal standards were revised to make the underride guards stronger and bigger. The update also required underride guards to be no higher than 22 inches from the road.

Despite these regulations, thousands of people continue to die in underride truck crashes. Some argue that the underride guards should also be placed on the front and sides of a truck. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that in 57 percent of underride crashes, a passenger car goes under the front of the truck, and 20 percent under the side. There is no regulation requiring front or side truck underride guards.

Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it will consider revising truck underride guard regulations. The agency’s decision followed an accident involving a woman whose daughters were killed in an underride crash (her car was hit by one truck and slammed into the back of another truck). The woman recently claimed a $100 design fix would have prevented her daughters’ deaths.

The trucking industry is not embracing any possible changes to underride guards.

There’s much that can and should be done to prevent fatal trucking accidents, from better maintenance of trucks to improving truck driver behavior. But when a fatal truck crash does happen, an attorney who handles catastrophic trucking accidents can represent the rights of surviving family members and pursue just compensation from those responsible.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.