Rear underride guards on tractor trailers have been mandatory for decades, but the requirements and standards for these safety devices, which are supposed to prevent smaller vehicles from sliding under taller trucks, are so lax that motorists continue to be killed in collisions with the backs of tractor trailers.
This horrifying scenario played out in the life of Marianne Karth and her family in 2013. Ms. Karth was traveling from North Carolina to Texas to celebrate four of her children’s college graduations and her oldest daughter’s wedding. Two of her younger children, AnnaLeah, 17, and Mary, 13, were riding in the back seat of their Ford Crown Victoria.
While traveling through Georgia, a tractor trailer sideswiped their car, spun it backward, and then struck it again. The Karths’ car plowed backward into the back end of another truck.
The second truck had a rear underride guard but it gave way on impact, allowing the Crown Victoria to partially slip under the back of the truck. AnnaLeah and Mary died from their crash injuries.
“I wish it had been me instead of them,” Marianne Karth told Washington D.C.’s WUSA 9. “It was so unexpected, so traumatic, so unnecessary, and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”
Now the Karths are using the tragic crash that claimed two of their family members to push for better underride guards and safety requirements. Crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have found that the underride guards on many tractor trailers don’t function as they are intended, allowing smaller passenger vehicles to underride trucks even in low-impact collisions.
There is widespread support for the tougher rear guard requirements, even among some in the trucking industry. The American Trucking Association says that it supports a consideration before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to strengthen U.S. underride guard standards to meet those in use in Canada.
Still, gaps in the proposed changes exist. There are currently no requirements for side guards, and, as WUSA notes, “truckers can get away with having shoddy, rusted-out guards that give out in a crash, killing motorists.” The new rules also would continue to exempt some types of trucks from rear guards, and others would still be able to get approval for guards that haven’t been crash tested.
Despite all the support for the enhanced standards, the Karths and other advocates face an uphill battle. As WUSA notes, “The battle rages on, even in the Trump era of deregulation and lessening corporate accountability.”