Skip to content

Why We Need Side Guards on Large Trucks

In May 2024, an unintended whistleblower told the Washington Post the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) hid critical truck safety information from consumers. The 75-year-old man, who had retired from his job as an engineer for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), spoke out about a research project he had once managed.

The project dealt with side guards (lateral protective devices). Side guards are barriers that close gaps on the lower sides of large trucks to help prevent dangerous underride collisions. In 2017, he encouraged the FMCSA to study the effects of using side guards in combination with aerodynamic skirts on large trucks as a cost saving measure and also to protect the safety of vulnerable drivers.

The research found that adding side guards to trucks would be cost-effective and the project was funded with $200,000 in taxpayer money. However, the man said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told him not to release the report. When he retired in 2020, the report was complete and waiting for final approval but was never released to the public.

Now a letter to the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation calls for an investigation regarding whether the DOT “engaged in misconduct and abuse, breached ethics rules and agency standards of conduct, and violated federal law when they suppressed taxpayer-financed research on reducing pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities in crashes with the sides of large commercial freight trucks.”

The trucking industry has long fought against a side guard requirement, and federal officials have concurred, saying they would provide a low number of benefits at a high cost. However, according to an NHTSA notice released last year, side guards would save approximately 17 lives and prevent 69 injuries annually at a cost of $970 million to $1.2 billion. We believe the report may underestimate the benefits of side guards, as the NHTSA analysis did not consider the potential fuel savings or over 100 pedestrian and bicycle collision deaths occurring each year that could have been prevented with side guards.

Why do trucks need side guards?

Perhaps the most famous underride accident occurred over fifty years ago, when actress Jayne Mansfield died when the vehicle she was traveling in collided with a truck and slid underneath the tractor-trailer. Following Mansfield’s death, large trucks were required to have rear underride guards installed to avoid truck underride accidents. However, side guards have never been required.

Trucks need side guards for several important safety reasons:

  • Complying with regulations: In some regions and countries, the installation of side guards on trucks is mandated by law. Compliance with these regulations ensures that trucking companies avoid legal penalties and contribute to public safety efforts.
  • Enhancing road safety: By reducing the risk and severity of underride accidents, side guards contribute to the overall safety of roadways. This can lead to fewer traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
  • Improving aerodynamics: In some cases, side guards can also help improve the aerodynamic efficiency of trucks, leading to better fuel economy and reduced emissions. This can be an added benefit beyond the primary safety purpose.
  • Preventing underride accidents: Side guards help prevent smaller vehicles, such as cars, motorcycles, and bicycles, from sliding underneath the truck in the event of a collision. This can significantly reduce the severity of injuries and fatalities in accidents.
  • Protecting vulnerable road users: Side guards provide a physical barrier that can prevent pedestrians and cyclists from being pulled under the wheels of a truck. This is particularly important in urban areas where there is a higher likelihood of interactions between large trucks and vulnerable road users.

The implementation of side guards on trucks is a critical measure to enhance safety for all road users, particularly those who are most vulnerable in traffic interactions with large commercial vehicles.

What makes underride injuries so dangerous?

Underride injuries are particularly dangerous due to several critical factors:

  • Severe head and neck trauma: When a smaller vehicle slides underneath a truck, the point of impact is often at the level of the car’s windshield or roof. This can result in catastrophic head and neck injuries for the occupants, as these parts of the vehicle offer minimal protection.
  • Lack of structural protection: Most passenger vehicles are designed to absorb impact forces through their front or rear bumpers. In an underride collision, the impact occurs above these crumple zones, bypassing the vehicle’s primary structural protections and leading to direct impact on the passenger compartment.
  • Higher fatality rates: The nature of underride collisions often results in a higher likelihood of fatalities. The severe intrusion into the passenger compartment can cause immediate and fatal injuries to the occupants.
  • Difficulty in extrication: After an underride collision, the damage to the vehicle can make it extremely difficult for emergency responders to extricate the occupants. This can delay medical treatment and exacerbate injuries.
  • Occupant decapitation: In the most severe cases, underride accidents can lead to decapitation or other fatal injuries to the upper body due to the intrusion of the truck’s structure into the passenger compartment.
  • Insufficient safety features: Standard safety features like airbags and seatbelts are not designed to handle the unique dynamics of an underride collision, rendering them less effective in these accidents.

These factors combined make underride injuries particularly dangerous and highlight the importance of preventative measures like side guards on trucks. Side guards help to mitigate the risk by preventing vehicles from sliding underneath the truck, thereby reducing the severity and likelihood of such catastrophic injuries.

Every car crash is serious, but truck underride accidents are particularly devastating. Semi-truck accidents typically cause more catastrophic injuries and deaths than other vehicle accidents. Because of their sheer size and weight, eighteen-wheelers are capable of causing tremendous destruction.

If you or your loved one severely injured in a truck underride accident, the experienced Atlanta truck accident lawyers at Harris Lowry Manton are prepared to help you pursue full and fair compensation. Call us or fill out our contact form to schedule your initial consultation today. We maintain an additional office in Savannah and proudly serve all of Georgia.

Scroll To Top