Passenger automobile accidents with tractor-trailer or semi trucks aren’t as common as accidents with other passenger vehicles, but they are frequently deadly. Over 3,800 people were killed in truck crashes in 2015 alone, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Side underride accidents, where a vehicle hits the side of the trailer and slides underneath, are a risk that’s particular to this type of crash. Underrides can also happen when a motorcyclist, bicyclist, or pedestrian slides under the rear or side of a trailer. These accidents are frequently fatal.
Here are the facts on side and rear underride accidents, including what they are, how they can be avoided, and how to get legal help if you’ve been in an accident with a commercial truck.
Trailer Side Underride Guards Can Save Lives
If you’ve driven behind a tractor-trailer, you may have noticed that there is a thick metal bar hanging below the doors on the back of the trailer. This is called a rear underride guard, and has been mandated by federal law for many years as a safety feature to prevent rear underride accidents.
The floor of a trailer is much higher than the floor of regular passenger vehicles, somewhere around windshield height for many cars—or about head height for a person seated in the car. Prior to the law requiring rear underride guards, cars involved in rear-end accidents with tractor-trailers had nothing to stop them from traveling under the back of the trailer, shearing the roof off of the car and frequently causing fatal head injuries to the occupants. Rear underride guards were designed to stop this from happening, and for the most part, have been a success.
Despite the relative success of rear underride guards, though, there remains one other problem. What if a car impacts a trailer from the side, as often happens, especially in lane-change or merging accidents? Severe accidents and fatalities are the result—in 2015, out of 1,542 people killed in car-truck accidents, 301 of them were killed due to side impact accidents.
Though side underride guards do exist, federal law does not require them to be installed. Many tractor-trailer owners choose to not incur the additional expense, claiming that the added weight increases fuel costs and decreases cargo space. Yet the IIHS has recently conducted research showing that side underride guards can prevent cars from becoming wedged underneath trailers.
Side guards not only prevent roof shearing but also protect the car from being trapped and dragged along with the trailer. One 2012 IIHS study showed that side underride guards could reduce the risk of serious injury or death in as many as 90 percent of side crashes with tractor-trailers, yet only a few cities across the United States—New York, Boston, and Seattle among them—have mandated side underride guards, and only for trucks owned or contracted by the city.
Truck Accidents Are on the Rise
Truck driving is a tough business, with many grueling demands placed on the minds and bodies of drivers, but that’s no excuse for causing crashes. Driver error is a leading cause of truck accidents, and exhaustion and fatigue are serious problems that can quickly lead to mistakes. When you’re in control of a 80,000 pound piece of heavy machinery on a public road, mistakes can cost lives in the blink of an eye. Proper maintenance procedures, including brakes and tire care, are absolutely essential to preventing truck accidents, as well, and if the weight of a trailer load isn’t secured and balanced, or if the trailer is improperly attached to the truck, disastrous consequences are often the result.
Get Legal Help After an Accident With a Truck
Lives are shattered every day by the terrible injuries and the tragic loss of loved ones after accidents caused by the negligence of trucking companies and their employees.
If you or someone you love has suffered due to an accident with a tractor-trailer or other commercial truck, Wayne Wright LLP would like to hear from you. We’ve spent years fighting for the rights of victims and their families to seek the compensation that they’re owed in a court of law, and we’re here for you, too. Contact us by phone, use the live chat box on this page, or click the contact form and reach out to a legal professional for a free, no-obligations consultation about your truck accident today. It’s time to begin focusing on the most important thing after the crash—getting your life back.