Insurance group petitions for stronger underride guards

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Updated Mar 2, 2011

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced Tuesday, March 1, that new crash tests and analysis demonstrate that underride guards on tractor-trailers can fail in relatively low-speed crashes – with deadly consequences. The institute says it is petitioning the federal government to require stronger underride guards that will remain in place during a crash and to mandate guards for more large trucks and trailers.

The institute says that in 2009, 70 percent of the 3,163 people who died in all large truck crashes were occupants of cars or other passenger vehicles. “Cars’ front-end structures are designed to manage a tremendous amount of crash energy in a way that minimizes injuries for their occupants,” says Adrian Lund, IIHS president. “Hitting the back of a large truck is a game changer. You might be riding in a vehicle that earns top marks in frontal crash tests, but if the truck’s underride guard fails – or isn’t there at all – your chances of walking away from even a relatively low-speed crash aren’t good.

The institute says it has studied the underride crash problem for more than 30 years, including mid-1970s crash tests demonstrating how then-current guards were ineffective in preventing underride. In the latest study, the institute analyzed case files from the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, a federal database of roughly 1,000 real-world crashes in 2001-03, to identify crash patterns leading to rear underride of heavy trucks and semi-trailers with and without guards.

According to the institute’s latest study:
• Underride was a common outcome of the 115 crashes involving a passenger vehicle striking the back of a heavy truck or semi-trailer;
• Only 22 percent of the crashes didn’t involve underride or had only negligible underride, a finding in line with prior studies; and
• In 23 of the 28 cases in which someone in the passenger vehicle died, there was severe or catastrophic underride damage, meaning the entire front end or more of the vehicle slid beneath the truck.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that about 423 people in passenger vehicles die each year when their vehicles strike the backs of large trucks, while more than 5,000 passenger vehicle occupants are injured.