In 2004, 26-year-old Roya Sadigh and her fiancé were on their way home for Thanksgiving in a blizzard. Their car hit a patch of ice, spun out of control, and slid beneath a tractor-trailer. The truck’s rear wheels ran over the car, crushing it. Sadigh died before she could make it to the hospital.
These underrides crashes –accidents where a motor vehicle collides with a tractor-trailer and gets stuck underneath – are deadly. Because of the height differential, they often result in decapitations, quadriplegia, and other debilitating injuries. Underride collisions account for nearly half of the 500 semi-truck fatalities every year. In fact, this type of accident took the life of Hollywood starlet Jayne Mansfield in 1967.
Yet the Truck Trailer Manufacturer Association, an industry trade group, has fought against safety protocols that could prevent these tragic accidents. The group claims that side underride guards, metal or fiberglass barriers that hang from the rear of most tractor trailers – are too expensive, difficult to install, and hard to maintain. Additionally, the trucking lobbying repeatedly calls into question the effectiveness of these safeguards. However, they’ve been mandatory in Europe for years.
If a trucking company is fighting you after a horrific accident such as this, a Denver semi truck accident lawyer knows how to help.
Tractor Trailer Safety Protocols
Despite making up only 3 percent of the vehicles on the road, tractor trailers are responsible for 9 percent of traffic fatalities involving passenger vehicles. With their increased vehicle weight, bumper height, and larger blind spots, tractor trailers are particularly deadly to passenger vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has required tractor-trailers to have reflective tape on the rear and sides since 1993. The increased visibility alerts other drivers in an effort to prevent accidents. Regulators later added a 1996 requirement that new tractor trailers come equipped with a bumper that sits 22 inches from the road. Unfortunately, most of these bumpers fail during a collision and do little to prevent underride incidents.
Most recently, in 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the NHTSA require “that newly manufactured trailers with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds be equipped with side underride protection systems that will reduce underride and injuries to passenger vehicle occupants.” The NTSB also advised improvements to the current rear underride protection systems.
The trucking lobbyists, however, have successfully prevented implementation of either of these recommendations.
“ATA believes the best way to prevent underride deaths is to prevent crashes in the first place, which is why our industry invests more than $9 billion in safety initiatives,” American Trucking Association spokesman Sean McNally told NPR. “Wider deployment of advanced vehicle safety technologies like automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning systems can help prevent all kinds of crashes, including those into the sides of trucks.”
It’s also worth noting that none of these revised rules address tractor-trailers that are already on the road. These regulations – and proposals – only apply to newly manufactured tractor-trailers.
Regulators Revisit Underride Accidents
But there is hope. Three major municipalities – Boston, New York City and Seattle – require side guards on city-owned or contracted semi-tractor trailers. Other cities and states are sure to follow.
The science appears to be catching up, as well. After years of testing rear underride guards, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ran its first set of tests on side underride guards earlier this year. They published the results in May. The group concluded that strong side underride guards not only prevent a passenger vehicle from sliding beneath the tractor trailer, but they also allow the car’s restraint system to work properly. In short, the IIHS claims that side guards would reduce the risk of serious injury or death in nearly 90 percent of tractor trailer accidents.
So, if you’ve been injured in a truck underride collision – or lost a family member in one of these horrifying accidents, you need to speak with a Denver injury lawyer at Burg Simpson as soon as possible. We have over 40 years of experience fighting trucking companies. Call us right now at 303-792-5595 or fill out our Free Case Evaluation form here.