Lawmakers Call for Guards on Trucks to Prevent Deadly Underride Crashes

January 05, 2018 by Clarissa Hawes

A bipartisan measure to mandate guard rails on truck trailers that prevent cars from sliding under, killing or injuring passengers, is making its way through Congress.

The Stop Underrides Act of 2017 was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D- N.Y.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as well as Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.).

It would require underride guards to be fitted on the sides of trailers and on the front of trucks. Both currently are optional safety measures. The bill also seeks to strengthen rear guards, which have been mandatory on trailers since 1953. Rear guard standards have not been updated since 1998.

“With so many unpredictable accidents on the road, underride guards are an easy solution for protecting people and preventing them from dying when a car collides with a truck,” Gillibrand said.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that 1,475 people in passenger vehicles died in collisions involving tractor-trailers in 2016. Of those killed, 295 passengers were in a vehicle that hit the side of a semi, and 238 passengers died when their vehicle struck the rear. Front collisions caused 915 passenger deaths, and 27 people died when their vehicles hit an unknown part of the truck, according to IIHS data.

The data do not reveal who was at fault. They also do not specify which collisions involved vehicles sliding under the tractor-trailers.

“Underride crashes don’t need to happen, they are preventable,” Russ Rader, a spokesman for IIHS, told Trucks.com. “Side underride guards will save lives.”

In late 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a regulatory proposal to upgrade rear-impact guard requirements. The rule sought to align U.S. standards with the more stringent rules that Canada has in place.

However, the agency has yet to move forward with it.

“Through research, computer crash simulations and analysis of public comments received on our proposal, [we are] evaluating federal safety standards to find ways to make these types of crashes more survivable,” a NHTSA representative told Trucks.com.

The agency is currently awaiting research results from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute on side underride protection on trailers that was scheduled to be completed in late 2017. Until the report is released, NHTSA will withhold its final assessment.

The agency “will continue to consider innovative approaches to prevent crashes and expedite safety advances that could occur through the formal regulatory process,” NHTSA said.

The bill proposes that rear and side underride guards must be designed and tested to prevent a vehicle traveling 35 mph from sliding under the trailer.

The standard would apply to trailers, semis and single-unit trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds.

In May, IIHS conducted a 35-mph crash test using a passenger vehicle and a trailer equipped with a side guard. When the test vehicle struck the side of the 53-foot big rig, the panel bent but stopped the vehicle from sliding underneath.

IIHS underride sedan crash with truck test

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducts a 35-mph crash test using a trailer not equipped with a side guard. Without it, the car lodges beneath the trailer. (Photo: IIHS)

The panel manufacturer — AirFlow Detector —doesn’t make underride guards for the front of semis, which is included in the legislation, said Alex Martineau, the company’s director of sales. AirFlow Detector’s side panels weigh about 800 pounds each and cost between $3,000 and $4,000 for both panels.

The Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association opposes mandating side underride guards on trailers, saying they are not cost-effective and may add weight, which could weaken the trailers.

Some trailer manufacturers have taken proactive steps to strengthen rear guards. In March, IIHS recognized five North American semitrailer manufacturers with its new Toughguard award, including Great Dane, Manac Inc., Stroughton Trailers, Vanguard National Trailer Corp. and Wabash National Corp.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents approximately 150,000 small-business truckers, is still reviewing the legislation and doesn’t yet have a position on the issue, said spokeswoman Norita Taylor.

The American Trucking Associations is also waiting for the results of NHTSA’s underride report that will be finalized once Texas A&M’s research is complete.

“We are looking to NHTSA to examine the technology and report out, a process that is happening now,” Jeremy Kirkpatrick, ATA spokesman, told Trucks.com. “ATA has supported efforts to strengthen rear underride guards in the past, based on data from years of study by NHTSA and the experiences of our members.”

NHTSA is already examining the potential benefits and problems with side underride guards, and we believe they should be able to continue with their work, Kirkpatrick said.

At a Dec. 20 Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Gillibrand questioned Chris Spear, ATA’s chief executive, about his concerns with the underride legislation, particularly about adding side guards to trailers. Spear expressed concern about the additional weight of the panels and whether they would compromise the structural integrity of the trailer.

“You don’t want to solve a safety problem by creating another one,” Spear said at the hearing.

Airflow Deflector said that its side panel — the AngelWing — works in “harmony with existing trailer designs with no effect on the trailer structure or durability.”

An AngelWing side underride protection device successfully prevents a midsize car from sliding underneath a trailer in a 40-mph crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (Photo: IIHS)

At the hearing, Spear also said that the added weight of the panels may force truckers to haul less freight. Truckers can haul up to 80,000 pounds.

This is a concern that James Maxwell, a 25-year trucker from Chillicothe, Mo., has if side guards become mandatory on big rigs.

“The government is trying to create situations where we get better fuel mileage, but then it wants to add another 1,600 pounds of weight to my truck,” Maxwell told Trucks.com. “This could also reduce the amount of freight that I can haul.”

The biggest issue if side guards become mandatory is navigating trailers into tight docks, said Jimmy Nevarez, an independent trucker from Chino, Calif.

Nevarez said the additional weight doesn’t bother him, and he supports more stringent rear-guard standards on trailers.

“I have seen the rear guards completely turn to butter when a car runs under the rear end of one of those guards,” he said. “That’s something that definitely needs to be looked at.”

But there will be some technical issues with the side guards.

“My trucks go into some really steep docks in downtown Los Angeles and [elsewhere in] Southern California, and we already have problems with the aerodynamic trailer skirts that are required,” Nevarez told Trucks.com.

The side guards also are strong and require reinforcement, which means they will cost more to replace, Nevarez said. “It’s also going to be more susceptible to getting hit when we back into tight docks,” he said.

The bill also would require that all underride guards be inspected periodically. If the guards fail to pass inspection, truckers could be placed out of service until the equipment is repaired or replaced. The bill directs the Department of Transportation to review underride standards every five years as advancements in new technology improve.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 4,000 people have been killed in crashes involving underride between 1994 and 2014. Of that number, around 1,530 were related to side underride crashes.

Marianne Karth and Lois Durso know firsthand the devastation of losing their daughters in underride crashes involving tractor-trailers.

Karth’s teenage daughters AnnaLeah and Mary died from injuries sustained in a May 2013 rear underride crash. Karth’s Ford Crown Victoria was hit by a truck, spun and was shoved backwards under another semi-trailer, flattening the rear compartment where her children were sitting.

Durso’s daughter, Roya Sadigh, was driving in a blizzard when her car skidded out of control and slid under the side of a tractor-trailer in 2004.

Since their daughters’ deaths, Karth and Durso have been advocating for legislative and regulatory reform that would mandate side underride guards and strengthen existing rear underride guard standards.

They “quickly developed a bond” after meeting in May and immediately started working on draft legislation aimed at preventing underride crashes, Karth said.

Karth said she sent the draft of the legislation — called the Roya, AnnaLeah and Mary Comprehensive Underride Protection Act of 2017 — to Gillibrand’s office in July. This was following an accident on Interstate 81 in New York in which four people were killed after their two vehicles slid under the side of a jackknifed truck.

Gillibrand’s staff reached out shortly thereafter.

The language in the bill largely mirrors what she and Durso wrote in their draft, Karth said.

“This is such encouraging news,” Karth told Trucks.com. “It’s bittersweet because if there was already better protection in place I might not have lost my daughters.”

“I am all about being a vigilant voice for vulnerable victims of vehicle violence,” she said. “Especially because for too many years no one has pursued a resolution of this known problem.”

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17 Responses

  1. Jamie

    I am not a driver. But I ride year round with my husband and most of the problems with the crashes are the cars they have no respect for the truck driver!! People really need to go out and ride with a truck driver during rush hour traffic in LA or NY or Any of your big city!! And now whet makes it even worse is the ELD before these went into affect the driver could choose not to drive in rush hour traffic but now because you can not stop the time on your logs you are being forced to drive in rush hour traffic or you are also being forced to drive tired!! I know you have heard all of this but put yourself in the driver position for a moment all of your rights have really been taken away you can’t really stop when you want you only have a 30 min break so what do you eat? Fast food every day? Or you just don’t eat and hope you don’t get stuck in traffic and your able to make it to the truck stop before you run out of time not to mention that your luck at now finding a parking spot if not then your paying for a Reserved if there is any available if not then your on the ramp hopefully not being bothered by the cops!! So please if you can help these drivers that would be awesome

    Thank you

    • S Mac

      Wrong focus. The whole responsibility should fall on the shoulders of the auto makers. They should be called to Congressional hearings to explain why their vehicles do not protect against this. And it will take a Congressional hearing to force them. Why? Because the 1971 Ford Pinto exploding gas tank was hidden from buyers. Ford calculated it was cheaper to pay for the funerals of the thousands that would die in flames, rather than dish out the $11 it would have taken to fix the problem. Look it up. So too, the automakers are happy to foist the costs unto us. Call your rep. Tell them. I will.

  2. Tami

    I guess it makes way too much sense to teach car drivers to drive and pay attention. It’s not hard to not hit a truck if you’re paying attention to what you’re doing.

    • Mark

      Yup, always blame the big, bad tractor-trailer driver because of the stupidity of 4-wheel drivers which cause 95% of all car-tt crashes.

    • S Mac

      The “blame” for under ride harm should be placed squarely on the auto makers. It is their job to make a safe vehicle, not ours to assume because of their neglect.
      Congress “mandated” higher mpg standards many years ago. Ummmm, they are not enforcing that either. That’s because of the money the oil companies stand to lose. Awww.
      The Senator and the Congressman would serve the country better if they would hold hearings and demand why the cars are not safer. If they would truly want to understand what happens in our world, they need to spend a week with us. Every single day, a car will cause us to slam on the brakes. This makes for a harrowing trip. Our country has raised a whole generation of people who have been taught it is not their responsibility to watch out for themselves and others.
      Then each state needs to stop whining about only being able to afford skeleton crews for their Troopers, and get out and aggressively ticket all distracted drivers and all who drive too fast for conditions. These tickets would more than provide the extra pay needed to keep our highways safer.

  3. Underride Guard Rails – DOT Process Agents – Blog

    For more information, check out this article.

  4. Robert Martineau

    The high and heavy commercial trucks with whom the traveling public shares the road represent a welcome minority on our highways. Therefor, the Stop Underrides Act simply requests that truck and tractor combinations, which together can cost $250K or more, add relatively inexpensive and simple crash compatibility in the form of underride guards, so that the vast majority on the road does not waste their more advanced bumper-level crash protection technology that we all pay for and expect in our cars should we be run into, or run into a high and heavy commercial vehicle.

    Arguing that allowing underride with a high and heavy truck is somehow better than engaging an underride guard just doesn’t make sense, and runs contrary to the benefits clearly demonstrated in IIHS testing and elsewhere. Any collision with an underride guard that might be considered severe should be envisioned without an underride guard and would certainly have even worse consequences since the car’s front crumple zone, airbags, and seat belts are bypassed. In an underride, the crush to the car occurs higher at head and neck level. Any underride collision not severe enough to result in passenger compartment intrusion is one well within the vehicle’s capacity to protect the occupants if it were to engage an underride guard instead.

    Nobody has a vested interest in safety statistics like the Insurance Industry. The IIHS has endorsed underride protection (as has the NTSB). The IIHS would not endorse underride protection as it has if underride protection’s weight were to somehow increase truck miles through displaced cargo enough such that a net decrease in highway safety was created. Given that 80% of large trucks and trailers run underweight and could carry displaced cargo, it is not at all clear that any extra truck miles would be created through the additional weight of underride protection, and certainly not enough to outweigh its obvious benefit. The weight issue becomes completely moot should the Stop Underrides Bill include a weight allowance for underride protection in which case no cargo would be displaced at all. Regardless, extra miles (if one momentarily assumes extra miles would be needed) is actually something that would benefit the transportation community and its members in that there would be more need for their services, driving up wages through demand.

    A 2002 Study by the University of West Virginia showed that trailers and trucks must be much lower to the ground than an underride guard to hang up on regulation railroad crossings and driveway and dock slopes. One need look no further than how low semi-tractors are to the ground, or low-boy trailers or car hauling trailers, to dispel the notion an underride guard at 16 to 18 inches from the ground cannot operate safely over the road.

    The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2014 said the average cost of a fatal large truck crash is $3.6 million per crash and $200,000 for each crash with injury. Life-saving underride protection has the potential to protect owner-operators from immense liability and even criminal prosecution for a simple driving error that leads to an underride. Case studies of fatal side impacts with trailers by the IIHS indicate 89% are fatalities in which a side underride guard would have potential benefit. With approximately 300 fatal crashes of this type annually, plus 4,500 annual injuries in underride crashes of this type, the benefit to the traveling public is obvious and massive.

    NHTSA has throughout its history consistently shown a lack of ability or resolve to address the clear need for greater action on underride protection. 20 years has past since Transport Canada testing and 8 years since IIHS testing has shown the inability of NHTSA-complaint rear underride guards to prevent underride and match the capability of a modern car to protect the occupant. Anyone pointing to NHTSA’s lack of action is poor justification not to act.

    • Pat

      Have you ever pulled a “low boy” trailer? They require quite a bit of skill. They can and do get hung up on railroad tracks, humped intersections, and driveway approaches. They are equipped with an overinflate valve to raise the rear which helps in some of those situations but not nearly all. They also NEVER back into a loading dock ramp. They don’t work that way.
      As for the height of the guard, look at the picture, it is nowhere near 18 inches high. The current aero wings are damaged regularly by ramps and tracks. The more rigid guard WILL stop the truck and require a tow truck to remove. That will damage the trailer or the structure it is hung up on. It will also block tracks or roads or someones business.

  5. Jr23

    Look at the bill 10000 truck required to have the underride well that means dully pickups,small trucks like step vans csmall box trucks and utility trucks. All required to have guards this is another case of one size fits all and are they going to require retrofit which are expensive and often fail rear protection upgrade on new equipment is probably good but cars should be required to not have such low sloping hoods either.
    Where I live the large long school.l bus are not too bad but the full size shorter busses used for handicapped are higher than even some SUV fronts do not know how they passed current rules.and nhts put real bumpers back on cars. Many new cars do not even pretend to have bumpers

  6. Jodi

    This ridiculous first the elds and now this congress needs to get there head out there asses worry about the other things happening in the world..They make laws they have no idea about just because it looks and sounds good ..they have no idea what these truckers go through on daily basis ingorant 4 wheelers, that cut them of or race to get infront them just to slow down.. maybe congress should put more laws on them see how they like it put elds in there cars or maybe car should put bigger bumpers on there cars …

  7. Will Congress Require Safety Side Guards On Large Trucks? — Alabama Injury Lawyer Blog — February 19, 2018

    […] head and upper body injuries, including decapitation. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated almost 300 car passengers were killed in side-impact collisions with a semi-truck in […]

  8. Doreen Drake

    Just heard that company’s want to have longer trailers, if that passes so should the side guard law..


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