Semis and Side Underride Accidents

Semis and Side Underride Accidents

Side Underride Guards and the Safety of Passenger Vehicles

When you get behind the wheel of your car, you share the road with speeding metal behemoths, semi-trucks. These big rigs pose self-evident dangers, but safety mechanisms can help make commercial trucks less dangerous to other vehicles on the road. In fact, the Truck Safety Coalition was involved in an Underride Roundtable, which gathered safety advocates, industry leaders, researchers, and government officials to grapple with issues related to semis and side underride accidents and the impact underride guards could have on the safety of passenger vehicles. The roundtable has led to some significant progress in mandating these life-saving underride guards for semis and tractor-trailers in the U.S.

Side Underride Accidents

A side underride accident involves a car that crashes headlong into the side of a tractor-trailer and then continues to plow farther into the massive vehicle’s underside. Because cars that ride under semi-trucks bypass their safety protections—the crumple zone (the protection afforded by the car’s hood crumpling first) and the airbag deployment sensors—and shear off their tops, these accidents are particularly horrific.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that about half of all fatal accidents between big rigs and passenger vehicles involve underrides. Furthermore, they conclude that durable side underride guards could potentially reduce the risk of fatal and serious injuries by about 75 percent for the occupants of passenger vehicles involved in side underride accidents.

Side underride accidents are extremely dangerous. If you were injured in or lost a loved one to a side underride accident, you need a skilled Houston truck accident lawyer to help you navigate the truck accident claims process and get you the maximum compensation you deserve. The legal team at the firm of Trust Guss Injury Lawyers, is here to help.

Some Underride History

The need for underride protections for commercial trucks is not new. Jayne Mansfield, the well-remembered blond bombshell of Hollywood fame, was killed decades ago in a backend underride accident with a semi-truck that set off the national safety outcry for rear and side protections on commercial big rigs. Although it took decades, rear guards—also known as Mansfield bars—are now required equipment. Despite providing increased protections and having the potential to save lives, side underride guards are not yet required. However, in July 2022, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) took the first major steps toward changing that. The administration announced that it was considering a new ordinance requiring trucks and trailers to have durable guards capable of withstanding the impact of a rear-end collision by a vehicle traveling 35 mph. Additionally, regulators would do surprise roadside inspections to ensure trailers are equipped with underride guards that fulfill the current safety standard. In an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, the NHTSA said that each year there are roughly 89 light vehicle occupant fatalities and 409 serious injuries in two-vehicle crashes with tractor-trailers during which a light passenger vehicle strikes the side of a tractor-trailer and underrides it. NHTSA estimates that when all trailers are equipped with underride guards, 17.2 lives would be saved and 69 serious injuries would be prevented annually. The NHTSA created a 16-member Advisory Committee on Underride Protection to further study the issue and make recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation.

The Trucking Lobby Opposition

The Truck Trailer Manufacturing Association, the trucking industry’s lobbying association, strongly opposes side underride protections for several reasons, including:

  • The additional expense of these guards. Installing side underride guards on a single trailer, including hardware costs and installation labor, is estimated to be about $3,500.
  • The inherent technological complications of designing side underride guards that don’t diminish the physical integrity or strength of the trucks.
  • The dangerous additional weight that these guards would add to semi-trucks. It is estimated that the guards would add an additional 450 to 800 pounds to each semi, which would also increase fuel costs.
Many in favor of side underride guards argue that this reasoning suggests that the cost in lives isn’t great enough to warrant additional expenses for trucking companies. Despite the Truck Trailer Manufacturing Association’s protests, the NHTSA is forging ahead with its plans to recommend side underride guards on all trucks and trailers.

Tractor Trailers and No Zones

The need to install side underride guards on commercial trucks comes into even sharper focus when you consider the vast blind spots with which truckers struggle when they drive. Truck drivers ride high above the roadways, which can give the appearance of providing a great vantage point—but one that’s in fact riddled with blind spots:

  • Directly behind the trailer of the truck
  • Directly in front of the truck’s cab
  • On both sides of the body of the truck

The blind spots on the sides of a semi-truck are particularly dangerous—the trucker can’t see your vehicle there. The right side of an 18-wheeler is its largest no zone of all. Side underride guards could help make these blind spots less treacherous.

As ever more semis take to the road, consider the dangers they pose when you share those roads. Give these giants plenty of space to maneuver safely, and stay out of their no zones.

Cities Get Involved

While federal laws mandate rear underride guards, there are currently no such statutes for side underride guards. Nevertheless, some cities, such as New York, Boston, and Seattle, have taken it upon themselves to require all city-owned and city-contracted trucks to join their Vision Zero initiatives and add side underride guards.

Vision Zero

Vision Zero is a traffic safety strategy that began in Sweden in the 1990s and is catching on in some large American cities. The stated purpose is "to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all." This is a lofty goal indeed, but a mandate for the requirement of side underride guards would symbolize a step toward the accomplishment of this goal.

Advocating for Safer Semis

Side underride accidents are serious threats to drivers on our roads. There is something, however, that the U.S. government can do to mitigate this threat—require that all semi-trucks have side underride guards. While the federal government is closer than ever before to requiring these life-saving guards on all trucks and trailers, until this rule is required, safety organizations like the Truck Safety Coalition will continue to advocate for them.

Contact an Experienced Houston Truck Accident Lawyer Today

If you or someone you care about was seriously injured or your loved one was killed in a semi accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you know how devastating it can be. You need a skilled Houston personal injury lawyer with extensive experience in semi-truck collisions fighting for your right to compensation for all your damages. At Stewart J. Guss, Attorney at Law, we’ve been in the business for more than 20 years, and we understand the complicated legal recovery process for big rig collisions. We will scrutinize the evidence in your case, advocate for your most favorable settlement with the insurance company, and if necessary, file a lawsuit on your behalf.
To schedule a free case evaluation with the attorneys of Trust Guss Injury Lawyers, call today at (866) 437-3820 or send us an email through our online contact form. Remember—you pay us nothing upfront when we take your case, and you pay us nothing unless and until we recovery compensation on your behalf..