Preventing Under-ride Deaths: Is Stricter Truck Regs or 4-Wheeler Education the Answer?

April 5, 2013

Truck safety is again making big news around the country. The topic at hand is truck under-ride accidents and calls for stricter regulations on trucks to prevent motorists who ram their vehicles into the back of them from killing themselves.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2011 for tougher under-ride guard standards. When that request wasn't addressed by NHTSA, the institute recently renewed its efforts to impose stiffer standards for the guards by releasing a press release about the under-ride issue that was picked up by most major media outlets in the country, including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Bloomberg and CNN. What's IIHS's strategy? If you can't get government to listen, garner public support for your cause. While any traffic fatality is a tragedy, the focus on under-ride guards is picking at nits when compared to the volume of other causes of highway deaths. To keep the issue in perspective, consider that in 2011 there were an estimated 32,367 killed in traffic fatalities in the U.S. Of those, only 260 passenger vehicle occupants died in under-ride crashes, about 10% of those killed in truck-car crashes. In its own 2011 study, IIHS said that of 115 crashes studied in which a passenger vehicle struck the back of a heavy truck or semitrailer, under-ride only accounted for 23 fatalities. And the enhanced under-ride guards called for would only impact a miniscule number of that already small number of fatalities. Current under-ride guards are already as effective as they can be in most under-ride situations, where motorist drive straight into the back end of trucks. Even the IIHS admits this. Trailer manufacturers, in fact, are already exceeding government guidelines in the manufacture of the guards.

The fatalities IIHS wants to prevent are those where the car hits the side of the under-ride guard rather than hitting the back of the truck or trailer head on. "Trailer manufacturers already are installing guards that are much stronger than the agency requires," IIHS states. "These guards generally work well to prevent under-ride, except in crashes occurring at the outer edges of trailers, the crash tests show." Forcing stricter guidelines for the guards onto millions of vehicles costing tens of millions of dollars to prevent a handful of deaths might not be the best way to solve the problem. Consider that at least three quarters of under-ride accidents are the fault of the car driver who is either impaired, inattentive or tailgating the truck at the time of the crash. The issue here is better educating the motoring public on how to safely share the road with trucks. "This report shows that since IIHS' first study in 2011, trailer manufacturers have responded favorably and have already taken steps to surpass federal standards for these guards," said Sean McNally, spokesman for the American Trucking Assns. "We must also focus on preventing these kinds of crashes in the first place," he said. "More driver education on sharing the road with large commercial vehicles is a must, and promoting greater use of collision avoidance technology in both cars and trucks will also produce results." To view CNN's "Hidden Highway Deathtrap" visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jz2Y_0IT1iA&feature=youtu.be

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