You may have never heard of a “rear-impact guard” however you have likely stared at one without even knowing it. These metal frames located on the back of tractor trailers or “big rig” trucks hang down towards the ground. Their job is to prevent truck underride crashes.
While they may make a convenient step for anyone trying to enter the trailer’s load doors, these metal bars are meant to protect a passenger car in the event of a collision. Unlike a car on car collision, the truck’s height is often as high as the windshield in many passenger cars, resulting in horrific consequences if the rear-impact guard fails.
And often, it does fail.
Death Toll Equal to a 737 Disaster Per Year
According to FairWarning.org, it is believed that the death toll from underride crashes amounts to about 200 people annually, and some say that number is low. That’s more deaths per year than the largest Boeing 737 currently in production.
Just think, a whole passenger jet, or about 16 lives lost per month.
Increase in Standards Equal to 10 Year Old Standards in Canada
Trucking safety groups and advocates were unnerved to learn that in response to these deadly collisions, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s proposal to raise the strength of the rear impact guard was nominal.
The increase was only a 5 MPH increase to 35 MPH.
We are now adopting a standard for trucking safety that went into effect in Canada in 2007, nearly 10 years ago.
My partner, Joe Fried, a trucking lawyer and advocate on behalf of families said, “this is a terrible missed opportunity to improve highway safety. In my practice, I see so many rear and underside crashes with tragic results. What makes these cases so sad is that the loss of life and/or devastating injury would often have been avoided with better underride guards. The industry can do so much better, but instead more people will be needlessly maimed and killed.”
What Are The Costs Involved for Better Underride Protection?
In case you are curious what the cost would be per truck for an improved and safer under-ride protection guard – $0.62 per day for a year for 5MPH improvement, or $229. Other companies are developing stronger and purportedly safer crash bars and their costs are only slightly higher at approximately $350 – also less than $1 per day.
How Is the Decision Weighed?
In a word: lives.
The decision was literally weighed by the number of lives it would save and injuries prevented compared to what an improved standard may present, and then it is weighed against the cost.
“The craziness of government is that you have to put lives on one side of the scale, and on the other side, dollars,” said vehicle safety advocate Louis V. Lombardo, a former NHTSA staffer.
What Can I Do To Avoid an Underride Accident with a Truck?
Best Rule: avoid trucks and consciously stay away from these giant machines while driving. When forced to drive around or near trucks maintain safe distances and keep in mind an “escape” route to a shoulder.
Whenever possible you want to avoid being near any moving object that could weigh in excess of 70,000 lbs, and your car may only weigh 3000 or 4000 lbs. The laws of physics make it difficult to walk away from a serious accident.
Unfortunately, we know that our advice isn’t as helpful as we wish it could be since trucks are ubiquitous. However until our government will equip trucks with greater safety standards American families will only be as safe as a near decade old law from Canada.
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