For family members watching a side underride crash test at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the potentially lifesaving results were bittersweet. Bitter because the side underride guards could have saved the lives of their loved ones. Sweet because the technology can prevent scores of others from dying in violent collisions in the future.
Luis Durso, whose daughter Roya was killed in a 2004 side underride crash, told WCPO Channel 9 Cincinnati that side underride guards on tractor-trailers and other large trucks can spare other parents from experiencing the grief she has lived with ever since the fatal accident.
“I just wish that the trailer manufacturers would’ve done it years ago,” she told WCPO.
The IIHS tested side guards called “AngelWings” that prevent passenger cars and other lower vehicles from sliding underneath the side of a truck. Side underride crashes generally happen when a tractor-trailer or other large truck jackknifes in the road, causing vehicles behind it to crash into the side.
The deadliness of side underride crashes is compounded by a lack of airbag protection because airbag sensors fail to detect a front impact. Side underride guards also solve that problem.
Made by the company AirFlow Deflector, AngelWings are the only commercially available side guards available for commercial tractor-trailers. They have been on the market for a year but they are not required safety devices.
Because they’re not required, relatively few commercial truck operators are willing to assume the $4,000 cost and added weight the guards present.
Yet the guards are so effective, it’s hard to look at them in financial terms.
When IIHS crashed a Chevy Malibu into the side of a tractor-trailer at 40 mph, the hood struck the AngelWing guard and crumpled and the airbag protected the head of the front-seat dummies. The top half of the vehicle was not sheared off by an underride.
IIHS senior test coordinator Sean O’Malley reviewed the test collision and concluded, “There’s a very low chance of injury with this crash,” WCPO reported.
Side underride guards would save between 150-200 people per year, according to federal highway safety data, and would likely prevent and mitigate scores more injuries. The guards are already required in the European Union, Japan, Brazil, and other countries.
Currently, no legislators in the House or Senate have agreed to introduce a bill mandating side guards. Rear underride guards have been mandatory on commercial trucks for several decades, preventing 11,000 underride deaths and injuries every year.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended side underride guards on most commercial trucks, but a regulation mandating the devices is unlikely under Trump. According to WCPO, the Department of Transporation agency continues to study side underride guards, but the emergence of crash avoidance technologies, which become standard on all new vehicles in 2022, will likely reduce the number of side underride crashes.