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Underride Crashes Are Beyond Devastating. Trucking Companies Must Help

Underride Crashes Are Beyond Devastating. Trucking Companies Must HelpTrucking plays a pivotal role in Georgia’s economy and transportation infrastructure. With its strategic location in southeastern United States, Georgia serves as a crucial transportation hub for the movement of goods across the region. Our state boasts an extensive network of highways and interstates, including major corridors such as  I-75, I-85, and I-20, facilitating the efficient flow of commercial vehicles. The trucking industry in Georgia supports a diverse range of sectors, including manufacturing, agriculture, and retail.

While the industry’s growth brings economic benefits, it also underscores the need for rigorous safety regulations and practices to ensure the well-being of both truck drivers and all road users. One of the most underreported yet deadly accidents that occur between trucks and smaller vehicles is underride accidents. Proper placement of underride guards on semi-trucks could save many lives, but the trucking industry instead chooses to save money.

What are underride accidents?

An underride accident is a type of collision that occurs when a smaller vehicle, such as a car or motorcycle, collides with a larger vehicle, typically a truck or trailer, and becomes wedged underneath it. This type of accident is particularly dangerous due to the significant height disparity between the vehicles involved. Underride accidents can result in severe injuries and fatalities for occupants of the smaller vehicle due to the impact forces and lack of structural integrity protection.

Frontline recently released a shocking documentary that takes an in-depth look at underride accidents and the trucking industry. Underride accidents are often particularly dangerous due to the lack of protective structures in passenger vehicles that can withstand collisions with the rigid undercarriages of trucks. These accidents can result in roof crush, windshield collapse, and intrusion into the passenger compartment, causing severe injuries to occupants. To mitigate the risks associated with underride accidents, safety measures such as rear underride guards and side underride guard rails have been proposed to prevent smaller vehicles from sliding underneath larger ones. These measures, if properly designed and enforced, could significantly reduce the severity of underride accidents and save lives on the road. However, there have been instances where trucking companies have been criticized for hindering efforts by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to establish such regulations.

Why are side underride guardrails a debated issue?

The implementation of side underride guard rails could provide a physical barrier between the lower portion of a passenger vehicle and the space beneath a truck’s trailer, preventing the vehicle from becoming wedged underneath during a collision. This safety feature has the potential to significantly reduce the risk of severe injuries and fatalities in truck underride accidents. However, the trucking industry has raised concerns about the cost, potential maintenance requirements, and compatibility of these guard rails with existing trailer designs.

The Frontline documentary details how in 1998, the NHTSA attempted to mitigate underride accidents by putting into place The Rear Guard Rule. This regulation, however, was not perfect, and many of the rear guards that were put into place could not withstand crashes that took place at more than 35 miles per hour, despite meeting the federal regulations. This meant that underride accidents still occurred, and people were still being killed in these accidents.

Trucking companies put their profits ahead of safety

In a perfect world, lives would always outweigh any monetary costs, but in the world of the trucking industry, that does not seem to be the case. Trucking companies have often exerted influence through lobbying efforts to delay or oppose the implementation of regulations requiring side underride guard rails. They often cite economic factors, such as the cost of retrofitting existing trailers or incorporating new design features. These economical concerns, must be balanced with the greater need for enhanced road safety.

There are conflicting reports from the NHTSA, trucking associations such as The American Trucking Associations, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) on how many lives underride guards could actually save. The NHTSA released a report: “Side Impact Guards for Combination Truck-Trailers: Cost-Benefit Analysis,” and in it, the association determined that side impact guard rails would only save 17 lives a year (as well as preventing 69 injuries per year), and cost between $900 million and $1.2 billion.

On the other hand, Frontline interviewed Matt Brumbelow, a senior research engineer at the IIHS, about the report released by the NHTSA and what he thought about the numbers. According to him, if these guardrails were put into place, it could save as many as 217 lives a year, which would be far more beneficial, and would tip the scales in favor of installing the rails.

Why is there a lack of reliable data on underride accidents?

The NHTSA’s numbers may be skewed downward as far as injuries and fatalities reported the Department of Transportation. This is because reporting on these accidents is not regulated across the states. Many underride accidents are misrepresented and reported as different non-underride accidents, leading to widespread under-counting.

According to the correspondent who headed the Frontline documentary, A.C. Thompson, “the official tally of underride crashes comes from a NHTSA database of tens of thousands of motor vehicle fatalities. But the most recent numbers, from 2021, show there were more than 400 deaths that year. When we look at the data, we find discrepancies.” Thompson and a colleague proceed to look up a specific crash that occurred in 2019 between a commercial truck and a sedan. The pictures provided by the database show that the car’s top half was clearly sliced off, being compared to what a can looks like when opened with a can opener. It is an obvious result of an underride accident; and yet, when it is compared to the main federal database, the one that the NHTSA based its policy on, it is not categorized as an underride accident. This is just one of many examples of how underrides are under-reported every year.

What we think

The priority should always be the preservation of human lives. Truck accidents, especially underride accidents, can have devastating consequences for individuals and their families, and the implementation of safety measures like side underride guard rails could significantly reduce the severity of these accidents.

To address these concerns, it’s crucial for stakeholders, including trucking companies, safety advocacy groups, and regulatory bodies like the NHTSA, to better engage in constructive dialogue. Collaborative efforts can lead to solutions that prioritize both road safety and the practical considerations of the trucking industry. The aim should be to strike a balance that ensures the well-being of all road users without imposing undue financial burdens on any particular sector. Even then, we believe that human safety should always come first.

If you have been injured in an underride accident, or a loved one has lost their life due to one, reach out to the legal team at Harris Lowry Manton LLP in Atlanta. We understand how absolutely devastating these collisions can be, and we want to help you secure the compensation you deserve. While the nation may be having difficulty handling trucking companies and regulations, we will fight determinedly so that you can see justice for the harm that was done to you. To schedule a free consultation, call us in Atlanta, or use our contact form.

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