Safety experts: Tractor-trailer underrides overdue for fix

Passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers travel on the same streets, highways and interstates, but the two vehicle types are completely mismatched. The bottom of an 18-wheeler is higher than the hood of the passenger vehicle, however.

When the two collide on a St. Louis street or interstate, the first point of impact between the large truck and the car is not the so-called crumple zone of the smaller vehicle, but the windshield. That means that in a collision with a large commercial truck, the smaller vehicle goes underneath the larger one, with car occupants subject to death or horrific injuries to the head and upper body.

This all-too-common phenomenon is referred to as truck underride. According to experts, hundreds of Americans die in truck underrides every year and many more suffer terrible injuries.

The most obvious solution to truck underrides is to require truck manufacturers and trucking firms to equip their vehicles with underride guards. Though there is a federal requirement for rear underride guards on the backs of 18-wheelers, there is no mandate for side guards or front guards. The U.S. trucking industry is resistant to the calls from safety advocates for the guards, though the European Union has mandated front underride protection for years.

Earlier this year, bipartisan legislation was introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate to require underride guards on the fronts and sides of large trucks. The legislation is supported by consumer safety advocates, but is opposed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association because it would have “little, if any, safety benefit.”

Of course, that is a difficult argument to make to families that have lost loved ones or had loved ones suffer catastrophic injuries in truck underrides.

Those families often feel as if they have little choice but to pursue justice in the names of their loved ones in personal injury or wrongful death litigation that might serve as motivation to the industry to do the right thing.