As a West Virginia driver, you know that your life and those of your passengers are at risk if you crash into the back or side of a huge 18-wheeler. Not only is a tractor-trailer much bigger and heavier than your vehicle, but its trailer’s bottom is so high off the ground that your vehicle is liable to slide right underneath it in a crash.
In such a catastrophic situation, the continued motion of your vehicle underneath the trailer results in your hood, windshield and roof shearing off, leaving everyone in your vehicle at extremely high risk for death by decapitation. You and your front seat passenger are the people at highest risk.
Rear underride guards
Rear underride guards supposedly protect you from such devastating accidents. Since the 1990s, federal law has mandated that all high-riding trailers have a rear underride guard, i.e., a secondary metal bumper, hanging down from the trailer’s rear. The ground-breaking technology of the 1990s, however, is completely inadequate today. Nevertheless, the government has never updated the safety standards it established nearly a quarter of a century ago. Consequently, a high number of rear underride guards fail to perform their intended function. Rather than stopping a crashing passenger vehicle from sliding underneath the trailer, they buckle or sometimes break off at the moment of impact.
Side underride guards
While rear underride guards are inadequate, the government has never mandated side underride guards, even though the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety began testing them in 2012. The initial test results showed that they can reduce side-impact injuries and deaths by up to 90 percent.
In 2015, the latest year for which statistics are available, the IIHS reported that 1,542 people died in car-truck crashes. Of these crashes, 301 were side crashes and 292 were rear crashes. The IIHS estimated that at least half the deaths were due to underride accidents.
Despite increased public awareness and lobbying efforts by underride guard activists, neither the U.S. Congress nor the Department of Transportation has moved forward to mandate installation of strong modern underride guards, both rear and side, on high-riding trailers. In the meantime, drivers and passengers like you and yours remain at high risk for suffering a hideous death should you strike the back or side of a tractor-trailer.