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Current safety standards not protecting motorists from deadly truck crashes

Getting into an accident with a large commercial truck is already a dangerous situation for drivers, but an underride collision can prove especially deadly. The majority of underride collisions occur when a smaller vehicle rear-ends a semi-truck trailer and goes partially or wholly under the trailer. These crashes are often the most dangerous of all collisions involving commercial trucks, especially if the roof and upper portion of the passenger compartment shears off during the crash.

Underride guards are designed to help minimize collision injuries by preventing vehicles from sliding underneath the trailer. Unfortunately, current standards mean that underride guards on most trailers aren't up to the task of preventing underride incidents from occurring.

Underride collisions can take place in two ways. The first involves side underride collisions, where a passenger vehicle runs underneath the semi-truck trailer as it attempts to make a turn. The second is a rear underride collision, where a passenger vehicle runs directly into the rear of the trailer.

In rear underride collisions, poor visibility due to fog and heavy rain, poor retro reflective trailer markings, inoperative taillights and failure to use emergency flashers when leaving and entering the highway at slow speeds are common factors. Drivers can also misjudge the speed and distance of very slow-moving trucks, resulting in the truck appearing farther away than it actually is until it's too late.

The biggest factor in rear underride collisions, however, is the performance of the underride guard. In theory, the steel guard is supposed to prevent vehicles from sliding underneath the trailer. All too often, the underride guard fails due to inherent flaws in the guard's design.

In some cases, guards can buckle or even break away from the trailer due to a lack of proper bracing. If a vehicle makes contact with the outboard end of a weak guard, the guard could simply give way, allowing the car to underride the trailer.

Although regulations regarding underride guards have been historically lax, a growing number of trailer manufacturers are voluntarily improving their underride guard designs. These improved designs, which include strengthening of the outboard corners of the guard, go above and beyond the existing U.S. standards for semi-truck trailers.

In a recent roundtable, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety evaluated a 2016 Stoughton trailer using an improved design. In a 30-percent overlap test using a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu, the improved underride guard prevented the vehicle from sliding underneath the vehicle. Trailers from three other manufacturers have also shown improvements in preventing underride collisions.

Safety groups hope the improvement is a sign that more trucks will use safer underride guards and that the U.S. will soon require all commercial trucking companies to equip their big trucks with better and safer features to protect everyone on the road.

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