An underride crash is when a passenger vehicle goes underneath a truck or trailer during a crash. These accidents are much more deadly than other types of accidents for a simple reason—when a passenger vehicle hits a truck or a trailer, the majority of the vehicle goes under the truck/trailer while the cab hits the top of the truck/trailer.
In most collisions, vehicles are designed so that the front/side/back of the car, truck, or SUV will crumple under impact while simultaneously deploying airbags, reducing the incoming force of the accident and cushioning passengers from the remaining force.
Because the cab is the first piece of the vehicle to make contact in an underride accident, none of these safety features deploy, and the full force of the accident hits passengers in their upper body.
These accidents are so horrible that they often result in closed caskets. You can imagine the pain and suffering of not only the victims but also of their families. To have someone ripped from you so violently is horrible, which is why many trucking companies have taken measures to prevent this type of accident.
The most common types of underride accidents are rear-underride collisions (the passenger vehicle goes underneath the rear of the truck).
Less common, yet still as deadly, are side underride accidents. Both of these accidents can result if serious injury or death, and both result in significant payouts from trucking companies, payouts that cannot even begin to truly compensate someone for the loss of a loved one or the loss of your mobility and lifestyle. There are several safety measures that trucking companies can take to attempt to prevent these deadly accidents.
In 1993, the Department of Transportation mandated that all trailers had to have “conspicuity markings,” which just means something that makes the trucks easier to see, especially at night.
This might sound like it wouldn’t make that much of a difference given how large most 18-wheelers are, but size alone isn’t always enough to make these vehicles easy to see. In the middle of the night, if a dark trailer doesn’t contrast with a dark background, a tired driver might not notice that there’s a trucker driving right in front of them. If they crash into the back of this truck, and the truck doesn’t have a rear underride guard, then that crash will likely turn deadly.
Adding reflective tape to trucks and trailers was one way of trying to mitigate the potential for these types of crashes. You’ve probably noticed it on trucks and trailers before—it’s everywhere.
However, while this tape certainly makes a difference and makes trucks and trailers easier to see at night and during the day, these accidents are still likely to occur when a trucker or a driver is not paying attention, is tired, or is driving under the influence.
Thankfully, there are other safeguards that can be put into place to prevent underride.
Side Skirts vs. Underride Guards
You have probably noticed that many trailers have a large panel in between the two sets of wheels that almost reaches the ground. These are known as aero side skirts.
While they may look like they would stop underride, the truth is that most don’t. They’re designed primarily to increase the aerodynamics of the truck and not to stop underride.
Additionally, because side skirts only appear on the sides of a trailer, they do nothing to prevent rear underride.
Underride guards have been found to be far superior to side skirts when it comes to preventing underride.
Trucks can have both side and rear underride guards, but they both do the same thing—they keep a vehicle from going underneath the trailer. What this means in practice is that those areas of the car that are meant to crumple will hit the guard first (instead of the cab), reducing the force of the collision for the passengers and activating the airbags in most cases.
This doesn’t eliminate all danger—a vehicle that collides with an underride guard is going to be damaged—but underride is so much more deadly than the average accident that the danger is strongly mitigated.
Why the Trucking Industry Opposes Some Types of Underride Guards
While the trucking industry isn’t callous toward underride, they have opposed some types of underride guards, their argument being that these types of guards have not been shown in practice to increase safety.
Everyone agrees that rear underride guards can significantly reduce rear underride, but the trucking industry questions whether side underride guards will have the same effect, all this despite studies that show that side underride guards are effective at reducing the instances of injury and death.
Unfortunately, the better-safe-than-sorry approach is not being used here primarily because of cost. The trucking industry argues that the additional $2000–$3000 it would cost to install each set of side underride guards onto a trailer is too much for them to handle, despite the fact that it would save lives.
If you or a loved one is in a side underride collision with a truck that doesn’t have these safeguards, this lack of prevention may entitle you or your loved one to additional compensation.
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