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Making the case for strong underride guards

Illinois passenger vehicle occupants are at high risk of catastrophic injury or death if they crash into the back or side of a huge 18-wheeler. As reported by Forbes, the bottom of the trailer is so high off the ground that the passenger vehicle slides underneath it in a crash rather than stopping at the moment of impact.

The continued high-speed forward motion of the passenger vehicle underneath the trailer usually shears off its roof, hood and windshield, leaving its occupants vulnerable to death by decapitation. The vulnerability is especially high for the driver and front seat passenger.

Rear underride guards

Under federal law dating back to the 1990s, all high-riding trailers must have an attached rear underride guard; i.e., a secondary metal bumper that hangs from the trailer’s rear. The problem is that safety standards for these guards have not been updated in the intervening years. Consequently, many of today’s rear underride guards do not adequately perform their intended function. Instead they buckle or even break off when a passenger vehicle hits them.

Side underride guards

CNN reports that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted side underride guard safety tests in 2012. Test results proved that these guards can reduce the risk of passenger vehicle injuries and deaths by up to 90 percent. Nevertheless, mandates for side underride guards have never been issued.

According to the IIHS, 1,542 people died in car-truck crashes in 2015, 301 of which involved a side crash and 292 a rear crash. While the number of vehicles that slid underneath the trailer is unknown, IIHS estimates that these types of crashes accounted for at least half of the total deaths.

Underride guard activists continue their lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., to mandate side underride guards and to update safety standards for rear underride guards. Despite increasing public support for these measures, however, neither Congress nor the Department of Transportation has yet heeded the activists’ call.

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