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Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls for stronger rear truck underride standards

Written by Steve Gursten Posted May 29th, 2013

Underriding the wave:  Study indicates the current standards for underride guards will fail in crashes where a commercial truck is rear ended in excess of 35 MPH

truck underride accident

You may have noticed at some point while driving behind a large commercial truck that there are metal bars that hang down from the bottom rear of the truck’s trailer. These metal bars are called underride guards, and they’re there to prevent ordinary cars from slipping underneath the truck or “underriding” the trailer in the event that the trailer is rear-ended by a smaller car.

These guard rails don’t look like much. Well, the truth is, they really aren’t.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently released a report indicating that despite the fact that transport trailer manufacturers have recently improved the strength of these underride guard bars, they are still grossly inadequate.

Here’s the full report: Crash Test Performance of Large Truck Rear Underride Guards

The report found that these guards are not strong enough to withstand most impacts when struck by a car exceeding 35 MPH.

As a successful trial attorney having litigated hundreds of truck accidents, regrettably, I am familiar with these cases.  It is too easy to have a car come upon a large truck stopped in the road, for a variety of reasons, and because of the time-speed-distance that the car is traveling, not be able to stop before underriding the back of the truck.  And we all know very well that speeds in these truck crashes often exceed 35 MPH.

When this happens, the underride bar often fails and the smaller car slams into the trailer and becomes wedged under the truck. It’s a horrifying scenario.  When these rails fail after a truck is rear ended, a car’s windshield, roof pillars, and windows are all especially vulnerable. These areas of the car are not built to withstand the same degree of high impact that the front end, rear end, or even the side panels, are made to withstand.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study shows a decline since the early 2000s in fatal accidents where a car rear ends a transport truck due to increase strength in these guard bars. But there is still much to be desired in terms of safety protocol.  They are not nearly as strong as they should be.

In 2011, 260 people died in truck underride accidents.

Part of the problem is the fact that the standard strength for these underride guards is notably low, according to the report.  For example, the Canadian regulation of these hanging bars requires them to withstand twice as much force as the current American equivalent.

The IIHS has petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to scrutinize the standard, and reexamine its efficacy.  Some suggested reforms to help shape new regulation have included things like requiring the underride guards to be wider and cover the entire rear of the truck. This is important because approximately 40% of all underride crashes involve situations where a car strikes the rear corner of a commercial truck in an area unprotected by the underride bar.

Another proposal includes requiring underride guards to be placed on the sides of the trailer as well, not just the back.  And of course, there is a call for strengthening the impact requirements, as well as requiring the guard to protrude lower from the bottom of the trailer, closer to the road.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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