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Truck Underride Accidents Are Deadly—And Preventable

This content has been reviewed by Jason D. Stone

An issue that was brought to public attention back in 1967 after an infamously fatal accident is still causing hundreds of deaths on the roads each year.

Truck underride accidents are particularly deadly because they render the safety features on most cars completely useless. During these accidents, the car slides under the back or side of a semi-truck trailer. The passenger compartment can be crushed or completely sheared off. Passengers suffer serious injury or death.

Truck Underride Accidents

The public became acutely aware of the hazards of truck underride accidents with the death of actress Jayne Mansfield in 1967. Her car tragically crashed under the back end of a semi-truck on a Mississippi highway late at night. All three adults in the car were killed almost instantly.

Even with this tragedy at the forefront of public attention, action to prevent similar accidents was slow. It wasn’t until 1998 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration updated the mandate for rear guards on truck trailers to include strength and installation standards. Currently, only rear guards are mandated for safety on semi-truck trailers in the United States.

Underride accidents account for only 1% of traffic fatalities in the U.S. each year. Yet, underride accidents have the highest fatality risk of any car accident. This means that while underride accidents are rare, they are overwhelmingly fatal. In many other countries, updated safety standards require side and rear safety guards in semi-truck trailers. Similar legislation in the United States has not been passed.

Underride Guard Failures

All semi-truck trailers manufactured since 1998 must meet the NHTSA standard for rear guards. This standard includes strength and installation instructions intended to prevent most cars from being able to ride under a trailer in the event of an accident.

The good news is that most truck trailers on the road today exceed the strength recommendations required by the NHTSA. However, simply installing the underride guard isn’t enough to guarantee safety. Just as with any other part of a vehicle, underride guards require inspection and maintenance to remain effective.

Most truck trailers have a 10- to 15-year lifespan. While working on the open roads, these trailers can suffer damages, accidents, and general wear and tear that reduce the strength of the rear underride guards. When trucking companies fail to inspect and repair these guards, fatal accidents can occur. One study found that over 10 years, over 200 underride deaths occurred due to underride guard failure.

Underride Accident Prevention

Truck manufacturers and drivers need to implement more safety features to prevent these deadly underride accidents from occurring. Semi-truck trailers should be inspected to avoid these potentially fatal mistakes.

Improperly Installed Guards

Rear underride guides must be installed correctly to be effective. Guard clearance should be measured to ensure that the structure has been installed correctly. If a guard is installed too high, it will be easier for a car to slide under the trailer during an accident.

Outdated Guards

The federal strength standards haven’t been updated since 1998. However, state legislatures may have instituted new statutes that increase the requirements for trucks. New research into crash testing has shown new rear underride guard materials and strength standards to be more effective at preventing underride crashes. Truckers must be able to guarantee that their guards are updated to meet current strength standards.

Defective Safety Tape and Lights

The rear end of a truck trailer can be difficult to see in various road conditions without the proper safety tape and lights. Truck drivers are responsible for checking the condition of these safety features before they head out on the road. The tape needs to be clean and evenly spaced around the edges of the trailer. At least half of the length of the trailer should be covered with this reflective tape. If the tape is missing or taillights aren’t working, a vital safety feature is no longer going to prevent accidents.

Missing Guards

If a semi-truck trailer is missing a rear underride guard, it violates federal safety regulations. This is negligence on the part of the truck operator and needs to be corrected as soon as possible to prevent tragic accident outcomes. While side guards are not required, these are used in European countries to prevent side underride fatalities and are recommended to increase safety no matter where the truck is operating.

Support for Underride Accident Injuries

Underride accidents are preventable with the right safety features installed on truck trailers. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from an underride accident, you may be entitled to compensation. The knowledgeable Boston truck accident lawyers at Jason Stone Injury Lawyers are here to help you.

We understand what a challenging time you are going through. Our friendly staff will answer any questions you have while guiding you through this difficult situation. Contact us today for a risk-free complimentary consultation.

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