Mississippi drivers who own smaller cars know that they ride at eye level with the wheels of the huge 18-wheelers with which they share the roads. Should the worst happen and they are involved in an accident where they crash into the back or side of a trailer, their vehicle could well wind up underneath it. Forbes reports that in all too many accidents of this type, the passenger vehicle occupants are at grave risk for death by decapitation. Often there is little to stop the car from sliding underneath the trailer, shearing off its roof, hood and windshield, and leaving the driver and passengers in the car defenseless.
Per federal law, all large trailers have been required to be fitted with rear underride guards since 1998. A rear underride guard is an ancillary metal “bumper” hanging from the back of a trailer. However, the safety standards for such guards have not been updated for 20 years and are inadequate today. Many current rear underride guards are not strong enough to stop a passenger car from sliding underneath a trailer during a crash. Instead, they buckle or break on impact.
IIHS crash data
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tested rear underride guards in 2011. Based on the results, they asked the National Highway Safety Administration to update and strengthen the standards for these guards. The NHSA, however, has yet to do so.
The IIHS then tested side underride guards in 2012. Again, strong guards proved their worth and the IIHS concluded that strong side guards could reduce injuries in these kinds of accidents by nearly 90 percent. Side underride guards have never been federally mandated and still are not.
The need for public activism
Per CNN, IIHS data showed that by 2015, nearly half of the fatal car-truck crashes in America involved a passenger vehicle sliding underneath a high-riding trailer. This amounts to approximately 750 deaths annually.
Stronger rear underride guards and mandatory side underride guards can reduce injuries and save lives. It is simply a matter of convincing Congress and the Department of Transportation to mandate them.