Safety Push to Reduce Serious Injuries in Rear End Accidents with Semi Trucks

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The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) recently issued a report urging stronger underride guards on the back of semi-trucks to reduce serious injuries and fatalities caused by low-riding cars colliding and sliding under the rear of higher-riding commercial trucks. Because cars and semi-trucks share the roadways every day, commercial truck accidents are an issue of great concern.

Truck crash reports show that in 2009, 70 percent of the 3,163 people who died due to tractor-trailer accidents were driving average-sized cars and other passenger vehicles. Since the main body of the car is lower than the trailer of the truck, the collision usually occurs at the windshield of the car — creating a greater risk to those traveling in regular passenger cars because driving under the trailer of the truck, or "underriding," usually causes the car to crush under pressure.

According to IIHS President Adrian Lund, "Cars' front-end structures are designed to manage a tremendous amount of crash energy in a way that minimizes injuries for their occupants." But the pressure caused by a collision with the back end of a large truck is different.

The IIHS found that even in low-speed collisions, these truck accidents often resulted in death or severe injury. To help reduce fatalities, the IIHS is proposing that the federal government require stronger underride guards, designed to better withstand the affects of a collision.

In preparing its proposal, IIHS tested three different semi-trailer underride guards, including two which meet Canada's more rigorous safety requirements. In several of the tests, the crash dummies actually lost their heads after the car smashed into and wedged itself under the back of the semi.

The tests also revealed that even though one guard prevented underride when a car rear-ended a semi head-on, it allowed significant underride when only part of the front-end of the car hit the truck. Lund noted that even the strongest guard has vulnerabilities, which is why the IIHS is advocating that manufacturers be required to strengthen current standards and test underride guards for different crash scenarios.

IIHS's petition is currently before the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration.