In 2009, 3,169 people died as a result of truck accidents - 70 percent of them were in passenger cars. It is likely an 80,000 pound semi rear ending a 4,000 pound passenger car would cause catastrophic injuries or fatalities. However, when passenger cars rear end commercial trucks the results prove just as fatal: often due to the failure of the underride guards on the back of the trailers - a design defect.
Semitrailers ride higher than passenger cars and the bottom of the trailer is approximately the height of a passenger car's windshield. When a car runs into the back of a semi, the windshield and roof pillars are the only things protecting the car's passengers. Even at low speeds, a car can slide under a tractor-trailer and essentially have its roof sheered off until the car hits the semi's back tires.
Current Underride Guard Laws Are Inadequate
Fortunately, many 18 wheelers and other large commercial trucks have an underride guard installed that hangs down from under the trailer. An underride guard can stop a car from sliding under the semi; however, it is not uncommon for underride guards to fail. For this reason, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to strengthen the standards for underride guards.
The NHTSA should require guards on all large trucks and trailers. Guards must be strong enough to stop a passenger car. While underride protection was first mandated in the 1950s, testing has shown that the minimum requirements of recently passed laws fail to adequately protect passengers. It appears the trucking industry has simply tried to turn a blind eye to this very serious issue.
Generally speaking, the vehicle that rear ends another is held responsible for the collision. Therefore, trucking companies generally are not held liable by regulating authorities for the accidents and have no financial incentive for the industry to improve the guard technology. IIHS President Adrian Lund said "Absent regulation, there's little incentive for manufacturers to improve underride countermeasures, so we hope NHTSA will move quickly on our petition." Lives are literally at stake.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an 18 wheeler crash, contact a knowledgeable trucking accident attorney to discuss your options.