A deadly side underride crash involving a tractor-trailer and two cars that killed four people on I-81 in New York July 7 has renewed a push by a legislators and safety advocates to mandate side guards on tractor trailers and other heavy trucks.
That crash prompted U. S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and families devastated by horrific side-underride crashes to call on Congress to pass a bill that would mandate side underride protection on both tractor-trailers and all heavy single-unit trucks, such as cement mixers and dump trucks.
Underride crashes render airbags and other crash protection obsolete because they generally shear off the top part of the smaller vehicle.
Catastrophic But Preventable
“Truck underride crashes are catastrophic but they can be prevented,” said Jackie Gillan, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “In a collision, a passenger vehicle can run underneath a truck or trailer, with the truck acting like a guillotine and shearing off or crushing the car’s passenger compartment causing violent death and devastating injuries.”
Congress already mandated guards to prevent rear-underride crashes after actress Jayne Mansfield was killed when her car hit the back of a tractor-trailer near New Orleans. That crash, which occurred 50 years ago on June 29, led to the regulations that have saved thousands of lives since.
But hundreds continue to die every year in side underride crashes. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2015 1,542 car occupants died in collisions with tractor-trailers. Of those, 291 died in rear-underride crashes and 301 were killed in side underride collisions. According to the Associated Press, researchers with the Insurance Institute estimate that half of all fatal crashes between large trucks and passenger vehicles involve underride.
The recent crash that killed four in New York occurred when a milk tanker swerved to avoid hitting a deer and jackknifed on the interstate, crossing both of the northbound lanes. Two cars, one after the other, slammed into the side of the trailer and traveled under the truck trailer. All four people – a doctor and three workers from RB Lawrence Ambulance in St. Lawrence County – were killed.
If the truck had been equipped with side guards, the motorists in the passenger vehicles would have been better protected.
Proposed Safety Bill
Sen. Schumer is specifically calling for three critical safety improvements:
- Update the truck rear underride guard standard. The current standards for rear underride guards are outdated and do not work as effectively with modern vehicles now equipped with crumple zones and airbag deployment sensors.
- Require trucks be equipped with side underride guards. Research has demonstrated considerable driver and passenger safety improvements with the addition of side guards, but they continue to go unrequired.
- Study truck front underride guards. Research should be conducted to establish the most effective approaches to front underride guard standards.
Legislators, victims’ families, and safety advocates have a steep hill to climb getting a bill passed in Donald Trump’s extreme anti-regulatory environment. One of the first orders of business Trump signed as President was an order requiring two regulations to be trashed for every new one passed, regardless of the toll of human life.