Underride crashes are some of the most terrifying types of automobile collisions. They happen when a passenger vehicle (often a car with a lower ride height) collides with a truck or its trailer, resulting in the vehicle running underneath the truck or trailer’s body. If the passenger vehicle is lucky, it hits one of the truck’s axles, preventing it from going entirely underneath. Otherwise, the truck’s bottom shears off the vehicle’s roof and hits the driver and passengers – often with fatal results.
One way to prevent these fatal accidents is to install side underride guards, which prevent colliding cars from going completely underneath trucks in a collision. Unfortunately, these safeguards aren’t a standard issue on all trucks. The nation’s top traffic safety authority is also hesitant to make underride side guards a requirement.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently published a preliminary cost-benefit analysis of requiring side guards. The report estimated that it would cost between $973 million and $1.2 billion to equip all large trucks in the U.S. with side guards and that the move would only prevent 17 fatalities and 69 injuries per year.
In response to the report, the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) issued a statement calling out the NHTSA for underestimating the life-saving functions of underride side guards. IIHS pointed out that NHTSA’s estimates didn’t account for other relevant crash types, such as crashes at speeds greater than 40 mph or crashes involving more than one vehicle or truck. The nonprofit additionally stated that NHTSA’s testing used speed limits and police-estimated pre-crash speeds rather than actual speed data recorded from real crashes.
A senior IIHS researcher said that side guards could save more than ten times as many lives as the NHTSA had estimated.
Responding to underride collisions
Until the NHTSA reconsiders and makes side guards mandatory for all large trucks, underride truck crashes will continue to be a risk. The IIHS noted that in 2021, there were 488 passenger vehicle occupant fatalities in collisions that involved hitting the side of a tractor-trailer.
While surviving an underride crash is possible, most have proven fatal. Tests have shown that slamming into the side of an unguarded tractor-trailer can result in fatal upper body crushing injuries and dismemberment, as the roof and passengers get sheared by the bottom of the truck or trailer.
If you have a loved one who died from an underride truck collision, consider filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the truck driver and operator with the help of a personal injury lawyer. A lawsuit can hold the driver and operator accountable for the death, and they must pay compensation.