New Federal Rules Proposed to Reduce Fatal Truck Underride Accidents

Truck Accidents

On December 7, 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a proposal that would mandate trucking companies to upgrade and strengthen the rear guards on their semis in order to decrease rear-end collision fatalities. This proposal stems for the desire to make trucking, which is an essential part of the country's transportation system, safe as well as effective, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx.

These rear guards, also known as underride guards, are rated to stop a vehicle traveling at 30 miles per hour at the present time; the new proposal recommends strengthening the guards enough to stop a vehicle traveling at 35 miles per hour, which is the standard in Canada. 

Underride collisions occur when a smaller vehicle rear-ends a semi and continues beneath it, crushing the windshield and causing severe injury, such as head trauma, or even death by decapitation to the occupants. Newer cars are designed to absorb the crash velocity in the front of the car; there is no defense mechanism built into the car for underride crashes, so passenger safety relies on these guards. Increasing the strength of these guards is intended to prevent this type of catastrophic injury and/or fatality. 

This proposal may in part stem from the fact that the number of deaths involving semi-trucks has increased since 2009. There has been some significant media attention brought about by some of them as well, most notably, the death of two teen-aged girls in a semi collision in Georgia. 

Statistical data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) bear this out. In 2013, a total of 3,602 people died in large truck crashes. Of those fatalities, 67 percent were the drivers and occupants of passenger vehicles. In fatal crashes where only two vehicles were involved; the truck and a passenger vehicle, the rate increases to 97 percent fatality for the passenger vehicle occupants. That equates to more than 400 people per year who die from injuries sustained in an underride collision.

About 60 percent of the total 2013 truck fatalities occurred on major roads, and another 30 percent on interstates and highways. Only 10 percent of fatalities occurred on minor roads. These data suggest that increasing the resistance of the underride guard to only 35 miles per hour may not be enough to really prevent deaths due to underride collision, since most major roads have speed limits greater than 35 miles per hour. 

And in some instances, even slow speed crashes result in fatalities, particularly if the underride guard is hit off-center by passenger vehicle. Crash tests have shown that some types of underride guards are better than others at preventing fatalities, but they work most effectively when they are hit on center. 

The crash test data from the IIHA was given to the NHTSA some years ago, and the chief researcher on that project, David Zuby, said that the data suggest that they may want to exceed the 35 mile per hour standard, since many of the crash tests resulted in fatalities even with the more reinforced guard.

The cost of installing the upgraded underride guards is quite small, only about $230 per truck. The total cost to the trucking industry as a whole is estimated to be around $13 million. This is a relatively small price to pay when the potential outcome is more lives saved and fewer people catastrophically injured. Adding in the annual cost of treating and caring for people with severe head trauma makes the price very small indeed. Acute care and rehabilitation cost for brain injury victims is about $48 billion annually in the U.S.

While it is likely that this proposal will be adopted, it may not be enough, and it does not help those who have already been killed or injured in underride collisions. If you or someone you love has had an accident where an underride death or injury impacted your family's well-being, a California trucking accident attorney can offer you some support with the emotional trauma and recourse for the myriad expenses. Accident attorneys understand the laws regulating the trucking industry as well as the trucking industry's obligations to the victims when someone is hurt or killed in an accident. 

It is not necessary to have a criminal conviction or even an accusation of wrongdoing in order to pursue a suit of this kind. Accident suits are filed in civil court and are usually based upon allegations of “negligence” which is defined as unreasonable conduct that causes injury to another. The goal is to help the victim weather the storm of medical costs and to award them monies to help with the pain and suffering they experience as part of the trauma.

Author Bio: Steven Sweat is a California personal injury attorney based in Los Angeles.  He has been representing personal injury and wrongful death clients for 20 years and is a regular contributor to this blog and others related to personal injury legal topics.  Click here to view Attorney Sweat’s profile.


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