Lawmakers Mull Making Sideguards Mandatory

by Terry Bryant

A bipartisan bill that would mandate underride sideguard rails on truck trailers to prevent vehicles from sliding under them is being vetted by Congress as it makes its way through the legislative process. The “Stop Underrides Act of 2017” would require underride guards to be placed on trailers and on the front of trucks; it would also require that all underride guards be periodically inspected. Both devices are currently optional safety measures which have grown in popularity. The bill also seeks to strengthen rearguard standards, which have not been updated since 1998.

An underride accident happens when a passenger vehicle (or motorcycle or bicycle) crashes into the side of a commercial truck and becomes wedged or “pancaked” underneath. These accidents severely injure or kill the vehicle’s occupants. Motorcyclists, bicyclists, and even pedestrians are knocked down and could be crushed by the wheels or suffer other traumatic injuries.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), approximately 4,000 people were killed in underride collisions between 1994 and 2014. Of that number, about 1,530 deaths (38%) were from side underride crashes. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that in 2016, 295 passengers were killed in underride accidents with a semi.

The deaths of four New Yorkers in such an accident in July 2017 drew the fury of New York Senator Charles Schumer. “Requiring trucks to be equipped with underride guards is proven technology that will save lives and make our roads safer,” he said.

The bill – if passed in its current form – would mandate rear and side underride guards that would prevent a vehicle traveling 35 mph from sliding under the trailer. Some lawmakers have even called for not only 18-wheelers to have these guards, but single-unit trucks such as dump trucks and large single-axle box trucks. And they are pleased that the safety standard would apply to many vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds.

One panel manufacturer, AirFlow Detector, says its side panel — called the AngelWing — works in “harmony with existing trailer designs with no effect on the trailer structure or durability.”

Several studies involving AngelWings began in 2010, giving solid glimpses of their ability to save lives. The IIHS study conducted in early 2017 involved a 35-mph crash test between a traditional passenger vehicle and a trailer equipped with a sideguard. When the test vehicle struck the side of the 53-foot trailer, the panel bent; but it kept the car from sliding underneath.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awaits a similar research report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. So it’s delaying a final assessment, which would likely influence the passage of the Stop Underrides Act.

A few years ago, as the first tests were proving the worth of the devices, a few manufacturers became early AngelWings converts. Companies such as Great Dane, Manac, Stoughton Trailers, Vanguard National Trailer, and Wabash continue installing these devices on many of their cabs and trailers.

If you have any questions about commercial trucking accidents, we welcome them here at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law. Call us at (800) 444-5000 or send us a note using this contact form.