One of the most horrific and deadly types of trucking accidents are side underride crashes. These collisions occur when cars strike a tractor trailer from the side—shearing the top of the vehicle off and often killing any passengers instantly. These accidents kill around 200 people every year, but experts believe that doesn’t have to be the case.
Rear underride crashes are equally deadly, but the recent use of rear truck guards have prevented cars from sliding underneath the back of tractor trailers. The only reason that lives have been saved from rear underride collisions at all is because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made it a federal regulation.
However, side guards have not received the same treatment. In Europe, sideguards have been required since 1989—if the same had been true in the U.S., it’s possible that over 5,200 lives would have been saved in these accidents.
Why Hasn’t Congress Acted?
Recent efforts to make sideguards mandatory are far from the first. Safety advocates and the families of truck accident victims have been fighting for mandatory truck guards since the 1960s. The issue first came to national prominence when Hollywood celebrity Jayne Mansfield died in such a crash on a Louisiana road.
However, the NHTSA didn’t act on calls for rear guards until 1998, nearly 40 years later.
The trucking industry claims that sideguards are technologically insufficient for the industry in the U.S.—they aren’t cost-effective, weigh the truck down, and “weaken parts of the trailer.” However, safety experts like Joan Claybrook, former head of the NHTSA, believe the real reason is they would make new trucks more expensive.
Over $9 Million in Lobbying Power
The Truck Trailers Manufacturers Association has lobbied Congress to vote against sideguards for years. Various organizations in the transportation industry have donated over $9 million to members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee—the body with the authority to ask the NHTSA to act. Its chairman, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, has received $731,500 alone in the last 5 years from the industry.
Thune objects to his donor record as having anything to do with the actions of the committee. The NHTSA has the power to issue regulations under their own power—they have just not included sideguards in the last few highway bills submitted to Congress. Thune has since committed to examine the issue of sideguards.
Why It Matters
Roya Sadigh was driving with her fiancé during a snowstorm in 2005. She was preparing to begin her life, both with her upcoming wedding and with a new career. The weather caused her car to spin out of control, planting it underneath the side of a tractor trailer. She and her fiancé were declared dead at the scene. In 2013, Marianne Karth was driving with her 17-year-old and 13-year-old daughters when her car slide underneath the rear of a tractor trailer.
She survived, but her daughters were killed instantly.
Stories like theirs are all-too-common, and people have spent far too long believing that their loved ones’ deaths were unavoidable. A preventable death can always be traced back to negligence—whether it’s driving-related or legislative.
At Arnold & Itkin, we have spent years fighting for the injured and grieving against trucking companies and manufacturers. We’ve done it for two reasons: one, to help our clients receive justice and move forward. Two, to teach trucking companies the high cost of neglecting safety in the name of cheaper business practices—and make sure they never make the same mistake again.
To read the NBC report in its entirety, click here.