A 30-year-old Virginia man was killed in a rear underride crash with a tractor-trailer while on his way home to join his family for Thanksgiving. Now his family is calling on lawmakers for action to toughen the standards for rear underride guards that are supposed to mitigate these horrific crashes.
Virginia State Troopers told Elba Padilla that her son Christopher Padilla probably fell asleep at the wheel when his Honda Civic plowed into the back of a tractor-trailer on 1-495 in Fairfax County, just minutes from home. Mr. Padilla was returning home from a holiday get-together with friends when the accident occurred about 3:30 a.m.
The tractor-trailer that Mr. Padilla’s car struck had broken down on the side of the highway. It was equipped with a rear-underride guard as required by federal law, but the guard was too weak either by design or from corrosion to stop Mr. Padilla’s car from becoming wedged underneath the tractor-trailer.
Underride accidents happen when a shorter passenger vehicle becomes wedged underneath the frame of a trailer on a semi, crushing or decapitating the people inside.
According to WUSA Channel 9 Washington D.C., crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in Ruckersville, Virginia, show the current rear-underride guard standards often fail to stop underrides from occurring, even at speeds well below highway speeds.
“Many of the largest trucking companies have already started using stronger rear guards. Still, without laws requiring the use of the stronger guards, tens of thousands of trailers on the road continue to use the older, weaker design,” WUSA9 reports.
Matthew Brumbelow, a senior research engineer at IIHS, told WUSA9 that judging from the video of Mr. Padilla’s crash, it looks like the rear-underride guard that Mr. Padilla struck showed signs of age and rust. In any case, it failed to prevent Mr. Padilla’s car from sliding underneath the vehicle. Mr. Padilla sustained fatal head injuries in the crash that were so severe, authorities wouldn’t allow his family to identify him facially.
Knowing that Mr. Padilla’s death might have been prevented with better designed rear guards may compound the pain his family feels, but it also may give them hope that future underride deaths will be prevented, if legislators are willing to act in the interest of public safety.