Are Side Guards Being Taken Seriously by Lawmakers?

February 15th, 2018 by Guajardo & Marks, LLP

When a passenger car and tractor trailer collide, the results are often devastating. If the vehicle hits the side of the trailer and slides underneath, the accident is usually gruesome and fatal. Such an accident decapitated a Tesla driver in Florida in 2016. The problem is that in underride crashes the top of the vehicle is sheared off, rendering useless most of the safety features of modern cars.

These side underride accidents are more and more common, according to recent reports. Government statistics show that more than 200 Americans die in these accidents annually. These horrifying accidents, some experts say, could be prevented if tractor trailers were required under U.S. law to have side guards. Underride guards are required on the back of U.S. trailers, but not on the sides.

Safety advocates have long suspected that federal lawmakers have been hesitant to require side guards because they receive millions in campaign donations from the transportation industry. This, despite the fact that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been recommending side guards on trailers for years. The agency released a non-binding recommendation in 2014 that stated all new trailers should have side protection installed. Little has been done about it since.

Trailer Side Protection System Bill Introduced in Congress

But things may be about to change. A bipartisan bill to require side guard protection systems on trailers that would prevent cars from sliding underneath is working its way through Congress. The Stop Underrides Act of 2017 was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D- N.Y.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), as well as Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.).

The measure would mandate underride guards to be placed on the sides of trailers and on the front of tractors as well. Both measures are currently optional under U.S. law. The bill also would enhance the strength of rear underride guards. While they have been required on trailers since 1953, experience shows they often fail when struck in high-speed rear-end accidents.

The bill, if it passes, could help to reduce the carnage on American highways each year. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that 1,475 people in cars, trucks and SUVs died in accidents with big rigs in 2016. Of those, 295 deaths were attributed to side collisions with trailers; 238 died when their car hit the rear of the trailer. The spokesman for IIHS, Russ Rader, agrees with the intent of the proposed bill in Congress, saying that side underride guards would save American lives and that most underride deaths are preventable.

The bill would require that rear and side underride guards be designed and tested to keep a passenger vehicle going 35 mph from sliding under the trailer. The new standard would apply to tractor trailers that weigh more than 10,000 pounds.

Last May, the IIHS did a 35 mph crash test with a passenger car and a trailer with a side guard. The test vehicle hit the side of the trailer; while the side panel bent, it prevented the vehicle from sliding underneath.

It remains to be seen what the fate of the current bill in Congress will be. The fact that it has bipartisan support is encouraging.

Contact Guajardo & Marks Today

At Guajardo & Marks, we understand the devastation of losing a loved one in an underride tractor trailer accident. These tragic crashes leave many families in emotional and financial ruin every year.  If the truck driver or company played a role in the accident, you may be able to obtain compensation for your pain and suffering, lost wages of your loved one, funeral expenses and more. Please contact our Dallas personal injury law office today at 972-774-9800 for a complimentary consultation.