Side underride collisions: Simple solution saves lives

There is a growing movement in the United States to mandate tractor trailers install side guard rails to prevent deaths from “side underride collisions.” These crashes are some of the most gruesome of automobile wrecks, and they occur when a car slams into the side of a tractor trailer. While momentum carries the bottom half of the car beneath the trailer, the side of the truck plows through the windshield and smashes into the driver, possibly leading to decapitation. One such crash gained global attention in June 2016, when the first Tesla driver died while using the autopilot mode. The vehicle failed to recognize a white tractor trailer crossing a highway, and the Tesla drove into the side of the truck.

A Simple Solution for Side Collisions

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), more than 300 people died from side-impact collisions with tractor trailers in 2015. Thankfully, there is a very simple fix that could save many lives. Side underride guards installed on tractor trailers would prevent cars from sliding under them, helping to protect drivers.

In March 2017, the IIHS conducted a test to study the effectiveness of side guards. In two test crashes, the organization ran a midsized sedan at 35 miles per hour into the side of a semitrailer. One trailer had AngelWing side underride guards and the other merely had a fiberglass side skirt.

The results, as you can see from the video below, were dramatic. In the first test, without the underride guards, the car drove under the trailer in what would likely have been a fatal accident. In the second test, using underride guards, the guard stopped the car, allowing the airbag and safety belt to protect the crash test dummy.


A Complement to Rear Guards

Since 1998, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has mandated rear underride guards. These are known as Mansfield bars, after Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield, who died from rear-ending a tractor trailer in 1967. Side- and rear-impact collisions with tractor trailers have similar results, so safety analysts from IIHS, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and others believe side underride guards would offer the same protections as rear guards.

Although the technology has been available since the 1960s, it has been slow to catch on due to lobbying from the trucking industry, which says a mandate for side guard rails would be onerous. In recent months, however, media coverage and lobbying from consumer and other transportation groups has been making an impact. Forbes, CNET and the Today Show have run features on the benefits of underride guards.

In 2013, there were fewer than 20 trailers on the road with this technology, and some industry professionals are predicting there will be tens of thousands on the road by the end of 2017. The attorneys at Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen represent families with loved ones who have been hurt or killed in tractor trailer accidents. We support the addition of side underride guards on tractor trailers and will continue to push for features that make all vehicles safer.