The sight of a rear bar underneath the back of a semi-truck is a common site, but it was not always. Like other innovations that are now common in our vehicles, about fifty years ago the government chose to require the installation of this bar as a safety measure to reduce the risk of underride accidents.
What is an underride accident?
These tragic accidents occur when a semitrailer collides with a passenger vehicle. During this collision, the passenger vehicle goes underneath the semitrailer. This is because the bottom of big rig trucks is generally 42 to 45 inches above the ground, while a standard passenger vehicle’s front bumper is often half as high.
This type of accident can crush the smaller vehicle and passengers within, causing catastrophic and often fatal injuries.
What is the government doing to address this problem?
We have already taken the first step: rear underride protection. Back underrides were not used until Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield was killed in an accident in 1967, where she slide under the bed of a truck. Her entire vehicle roof was sheared off. Following her death, the NHTSA made mandatory for all trucks trailers to have rear impact guards, called rear underrides. Hence, these guards are frequently referred to as the Mansfield Bars.
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) noted in 1969 that the feds would amend the law to include protection for the sides of larger vehicles once technology was available. Those in favor of adding side protection argue the technology is available and an update to the law is long overdue.
United States Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) along with U.S. Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) agree. This group came across the aisle to reintroduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen safety measures that help prevent these deadly underride accidents. The proposal requires trucks with a weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more and are 22 inches above the ground install rear, side, and front underride guards to help prevent these tragic accidents.
Lawmakers introduced the legislation, known as the Stop Underrides Act, this past March. It is currently under consideration within the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit within the House of Representatives. If passed, it would move on for further review by the Senate before it could become law.
These lawmakers are not alone. Safety advocates recently sent a letter to the NHTSA urging officials to initiate a safety defect investigation into this very issue.
What can I do if involved in an accident with a truck that does not have side underride guards?
There are options to hold the trucking companies accountable, even if the government has yet to act. Our legal system provides an option to hold the those responsible for these accidents financially accountable for their wrongdoing.
A recent case provide an example. In this case, a high schooler was driving to band practice when a big rig veered out of its lane and struck his Honda Civic. The collision forced the vehicle underneath the trailer of the truck and dragged it for half a mile.
The trucking company that owned the truck attempted to settle with the family, multiple times. Part of the settlement offer included a confidentiality agreement stating the family would not discuss the accident. The family decided it was more important to share the story, to push for change, then to settle the case.
Ultimately, the jury agreed. They found in favor of the family and awarded them $42 million. The family is now advocating for the passage of the Stop Underrides Act.