Due to their imposing size and weight, commercial trucks pose significant dangers to other vehicles on the road. The fact that a truck’s trailer sits high above the road – enough room for most passenger cars to fit underneath – adds another deadly dimension. Most commercial trailers today are equipped with underride guards, or metal bars, at the back end to help prevent this from happening. But how well do they actually work in protecting car drivers and passengers?
That’s the question the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) recently examined. And the answers the nonprofit organization found are cause for alarm.
In 2011, the IIHS asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for tougher underride guard standards. Previous research showed that mandated minimum underride standards were not adequate. The IIHS also suggested that dump trucks and other commercial vehicles should be required to have underride guards.
The NHTSA so far has yet to take any action, so the IIHS recently conducted its own study on commercial trailer underride guards that meet today’s current U.S. and Canadian standards. Canadian standards are higher than our own.
The good news is that most of the underride guards included in the study did an adequate job in protecting cars from sliding underneath tractor-trailers in direct rear-end collisions. However, the bad news is that most did not protect automobile passengers from fatalities when the car hit the trailer at an angle, even when the car was traveling as low as 35 mph.
The test included trailers from the eight largest manufacturers and a 2010 model Chevrolet Malibu. When the car crashed directly into the rear of the trailers, all eight passed the test. In another round of testing, the car hit the trailers at an angle so that about 30 percent of the car’s width slid underneath. In this set of circumstances, all but one of the eight trailers failed to safely protect the car and its passengers.
The chances for catastrophic injuries and death are high when a car slides underneath a commercial tractor-trailer. Drivers and passengers are particularly at risk for deadly head and neck injuries. In 2011, according to the IIHS, 260 occupants of motor vehicles died when their cars collided with and were trapped underneath trucks.
Accidents that involve a car sliding underneath tractor-trailers aren’t necessarily the fault of the car driver. For example, quick, unnecessary stops by the truck or when a truck driver loses control and jackknifes on the highway can leave other vehicles little or no time to take evasive action. When that’s the case, victims of such accidents should be compensated by the responsible parties.