Maryland Traffic Safety: Fatal Highway Accidents Caused by Ineffective Tractor-trailer Under-ride Guards

The next time you’re out on the road, this story might make you think twice about following an 18-wheeler. While most people may associate fatal trucking-related traffic accidents with a smaller car, minivan or SUV being struck by a much larger and heavier semi tractor-trailer rig or commercial delivery truck, hundreds of people nationwide die every year as a result of passenger cars running into the rear of semi trailers.

As Baltimore auto accident attorneys and personal injury lawyers, we understand how severe these so-called under-ride accidents can be. And without the proper under-ride protection on the rear end of a long-haul trailer, the occupants in the passenger car can easily be decapitated during the collision. Fatal traffic crashes of this sort don’t necessarily have to be high-speed incidents either.

At the very least, cuts, bruises and broken bones are possible as a result of an under-ride collision. Worse still, neck and spinal injury can occur, as can traumatic brain injury. Depending on the circumstances, some individuals who survive this type of wreck can be paralyzed and require weeks or months of physical therapy to bring them back to something approaching a normal life.

Families of victims can end up suffering financially long after their loved one has been hurt or killed. This is especially true when the victim is a primary wage earning for the family. The news today indicates that the under-ride prevention methods and structures used on many tractor-trailers may prove inadequate when they are actually needed in a crash. Poorly designed parts or incorrectly installed components could result in a much more serious outcome for a drive hitting the back of a trailer.

According to the news, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted tests using a properly-fitted under-ride preventer on a semi trailer and found that federal standards for these rear under-ride guards should be made stricter. Based on video shown by various news outlets, it appears that the IIHS has a point.

In one of the IIHS videos, a Chevy Malibu impacts the rear of a tractor-trailer at 35mph. Even though the Malibu has a 5-star safety ranking from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the semi trailer is fitted with a conforming under-ride guard, the front seat passengers could likely have been killed as a result that crash. As the reporter states, hitting a brick wall would actually be safer.

One woman, a survivor of an under-ride trucking accident, said that she underwent almost four dozen separate surgeries. According to the report, that person’s life was changed forever after she lost her jaw and a portion of her tongue in a commercial truck crash. Now she has trouble speaking and eating, meaning she can’t eat normal food anymore.

An IIHS spokesperson said that the current standards and the under-ride protections based on those standards a clearly not protecting members of the public involved in such accidents. While the IIHS believes that a car rear-ending a truck should not lead to death or serious injury, more than 400 people each year die in these types of crashes. You can be certain that many more are injured, some seriously following those tragic accidents.

Unfortunately, for now at least, the NHTSA says it has no plans the strengthen the current standards, even in the light of the latest tests by the IIHS. If it were to consider making changes to the safety standards — by specifying strengthened under-ride guards as well as improved attachment methods – reports indicate that it would be only the second time in nearly 60 years that the federal government implemented new regulations regarding under-ride guards.

Truck Under-Ride Accidents: Death By Big Rig Guillotine,, March 1, 2011
Stunning video backs call for new trucking rules,, March 1, 2011

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