It’s long been known that large tractor-trailer trucker pose a significant danger on the road. Experts in vehicle design have even taken that into account. Now a new report says those big-rig truck safety features are failing to do the job.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently studied a particular class of collisions, in which tractor-trailer trucks are struck from the rear by passenger cars. Of particular concern are so-called “underride” accidents, where the front portion of the car drives under the truck’s trailer. This type of collision shatters the car’s windshield and crushes the upper space of the passenger compartment until the car comes to a stop.
Modern automobiles are designed so the front part of the vehicle will crumple on impact, absorbing a lot of the energy from a collision. That energy would otherwise be transmitted to harm the car’s occupants. In an underride accident, though, the front of the car slides beneath the truck, bypassing this safety design and inflicting maximum damage on the passenger compartment. The result is horrific injuries, including decapitation.
Is it worth $20 to save a life?
When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) analyzed tractor-trailer truck collisions, their researchers found that special safety design features—adopted years ago to prevent underride incidents—were only effective when a car collided with the central rear area of the trailer. When cars struck further toward the rear edge of the trailer, these underride guards often did not prevent underride accidents and catastrophic injuries to the car’s occupants.
One bright spot in the findings: remounting the vertical supports for the underride guards can improve their effectiveness for a wider variety of car-truck collision accidents. Some trucking companies have already made those modifications to meet Canada’s more rigorous trailer regulations. But, in general, truckers who operate vehicles in the United States have not bothered to go beyond what U.S. law requires, even though the modification would only cost about $20 per vehicle.
Why are trucking companies unwilling to spend even a tiny amount to improve public safety? Perhaps it’s because any spur to reform would be driven by lawsuits, and current testing methods don’t provide good evidence for civil cases. New Jersey traffic injury attorney Scott Diamond reflected on how the defendant’s lawyers explain the typical incident to a jury as a car that’s been following too closely behind a truck. The car driver is portrayed as driving recklessly, and “It’s kind of hard to blame someone else for your fault,” Diamond told reporters recently.
Needed: a reliable way to hold dangerous truckers accountable
As long as the trucking industry isn’t called to account for the injuries from New Jersey big rig collisions, there is no incentive to make even $20 upgrades to make vehicles safer.
The idea that commercial trucks and their drivers are blameless in highway collisions is, of course, absurd. The IIHS had to design a standard testing environment for underride crashes, and that involved a nonmoving trailer and a car traveling at 35 miles per hour. That’s not actually how things work in the real world. Trucking underride collisions can also be caused by:
- Trucks suddenly swerving or changing lanes.
- Trucks stalling or braking unexpectedly.
- Trucks backing up at high speed from a parked position.
Underride collisions are rare. But commercial truck accidents in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are, unfortunately, all too common. If you have been injured in a New Jersey or Pennsylvania truck accident, contact Scott Diamond at (215) 523-6900 today. Truck accident trial attorney Scott Diamond is ready to demand the settlement or jury award you deserve after your injuries caused by a truck driver’s negligence. Call today to schedule a free conference about your case and the financial recovery Mr. Diamond can seek for you,