If you have ever been driving too close behind an 18-wheeler on the highway, you may have seen an underride guard. It is a strip of steel that hangs from the rear end of large, commercial trucks with the purpose of keeping passenger vehicles from riding up under the rear end of a truck in the event of a crash. Underride guards are not been required safety gear on all commercial trucks, but according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), they are “the main countermeasure for reducing underride deaths and injuries when a passenger vehicle crashes into the back of a tractor-trailer.” However, not all trucks have underride guards, and not all underride guards perform as they should in keeping passenger vehicles from sliding under the back end of a truck and getting crushed. Rear impact guards must be able to prevent passenger cars from sliding under the rear end of the truck to the point where the passenger compartment is struck.
The IIHS evaluated three different types of underride guards in this test under different conditions. One guard complied only with US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and two met the more stringent Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (CMVSS) regulations. The guard that complied with U.S. safety standards failed catastrophically, the second failed in 50 percent of the tests and the third guard was able to prevent underride in the full-width and the offset tests, but failed the 30 percent overlap test. The test concluded that both the U.S. and Canadian underride guard standards should be upgraded.
Advocating for change
Ms. Marianne Karth has become an advocate for truck safety and for tougher standards for underride guards for all large, commercial trucks because of the personal tragedy that she has been through in losing two of her daughters in a crash with a large truck. On May 4, 2013, Ms. Karth was on a trip with her children from North Carolina to Texas. On a Georgia Highway, they were involved in a crash with a large commercial truck whose underride guard failed and caused the death of Annaleah and Mary, ages 17 and 13. Ms. Karth is now on a mission to compel the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require that large, commercial trucks be required to have underride guards, and that the current underride guard standards be upgraded to meet Transport Canada’s standards. Her organization has managed to collect 11,000 signatures in support of tougher underride guard standards. The NHTSA has now published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, asking the public for comments on underride protection for single unit trucks.
Requiring rear impact guards for trucks that do not already have them, and strengthening the standards for the guards will save countless lives, which is a far more important consideration than concerns about the cost of the additional equipment.