Side underride guards are lifesavers in a Pennsylvania truck accident. They prevent a motorist colliding with a commercial truck from sliding underneath a truck, resulting in injuries that are often fatal. Yet these devices are not mandated by federal regulations. And while many commercial carriers have taken the initiative to have the devices installed on their fleet voluntarily, some of them may be old, weak and unable to serve their intended purpose in a crash.
A recent crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) looked at the effect of side underride guards in a T-bone-type side crash with a passenger car. This is the type of crash we might see if one of the vehicles ran a red light or failed to yield. In both cases, the smaller car crashed into the truck at 35 mph.
Why Side Underride Guards Matter
In the case with the truck that was equipped with proper side underride guards, the passenger car struck the side of the trailer, but was repelled. The airbags deployed and the seat belts reacted to keep the dummy driver and passenger securely in place.
But then in the second test, wherein the semi-truck had no side underride guard, the results were sobering. The passenger car struck the side of the trailer - and kept going, become wedged underneath the trailer. The roof of the passenger car was sheared off. In this scenario, researchers opined, it's unlikely anyone in that car would survive.
The importance of this safety feature is even further underscored when you consider that 1 in 5 people killed in two-vehicle collisions with large trucks died because their vehicle became wedged underneath the truck in side-impact crashes.
Meanwhile, passenger car occupant deaths from rear-end truck accidents were far lower. This is almost certainly owing to the fact that 49 CFR 571.223, Standard No. 223, requires rear impact guards on large trucks. There is no such federal standard for side impact guards.
Mothers Lobby for Change
Two mothers are working to change this fact and encourage federal lawmakers to pass a provision that would mandate side underride guards on all trucks over 10,000 pounds. The bill they have written bears the names of their daughters, all three of whom were killed in crashes wherein side underride guards likely would have saved their lives.
One young woman was just 26-years-old when her car skidded out-of-control in a blizzard the night before Thanksgiving. She slid right under a truck and died instantly. That was in 2004.
The other woman lost two daughters - ages 13 and 17, when the family was returning home from an out-of-state wedding and an 18-wheeler sideswiped their car, spun it around and struck it again, hurling the back underneath the truck. The side guard that was on the truck failed.
The two women told NPR the bill is the culmination of many years of effort that has included petitions, social media campaigns and round table discussions focused on safety.
The American Trucking Industry is opposed to the change, saying crash prevention is the better route, and citing its billions of dollars in investment in other technologies, such as forward collision warnings and automatic emergency braking.