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Can Changes to Commercial Truck Designs Eliminate Deadly Side Underride Crashes?

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Crashes involving large commercial trucks are notoriously dangerous, but the deadliest type of crash may be preventable, if the industry will agree to modifications to trailer designs. The type of crash targeted is a side underride collision, where a passenger car passes under the belly of the trailer, making its bumper and crumple zones useless as the top of the cabin is sheared off. As NBC News reports, in many such crashes, passengers are decapitated. Government statistics estimate that 200 Americans a year are killed in this manner, prompting lawmakers to wonder whether new safety features could save lives.

Undercarriage crashes were once a danger in rear-end collisions. Passenger cars would pass under the rear of the trailer without any bumper to stop them. Actress Jayne Mansfield was killed with two other occupants of a Buick Electra when the car struck the rear of a tractor-trailer in 1967. Her three children, asleep in the back seat, survived. It wasn’t until 1998 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated that trailers be outfitted with rear guards extending downward to block a car from passing underneath.

Sideguard advocacy received a boost last year after the much-publicized, fatal crash of a self-driving Tesla in Florida. The vehicle’s guidance system had failed to distinguish the broad side of a white trailer from the open sky and did not prevent the car from passing under the trailer. The crash killed Joshua D. Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio.

The Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association has opposed sideguards for trailers, citing “the added cost, technical challenges and concern that the guards could weaken parts of a trailer or dangerously increase their weight.” TTMA claims that advocates of sideguards have “overstated the simplicity” of the proposed fix, while “prototypes have been technical and commercial failures.”

On average, about 60 people die in large truck accidents in New Jersey every year. Statistics for side underride collisions are not available, so we cannot estimate how many lives might be saved in the Garden State if the NHTSA mandated sideguards.

If you’ve been injured in a commercial truck accident in Bergen County or anywhere in New Jersey, consult an experienced personal injury attorney at Seigel Law as soon as possible. Contact us online or call 201.444.4000 today for a free case evaluation.

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