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Any car crash can be disastrous, but when a passenger car collides with a heavy truck, the results are often lethal. That is particularly true when the car crashes into the rear of a truck that has unexpectedly stopped on a highway.

Since commercial trucks ride higher off the ground than typical cars, the car may roll under the truck at a high speed. An “underride” accident usually results in the rear of the truck smashing the windshield and tearing the roof from the car. Drivers and front seat passengers almost always suffer lethal head injuries in underride accidents.

Underride accidents defeat a vehicle’s crash protection. Airbags may inflate, but they provide no protection when the rear of the truck slams into the windshield as the car slides under the truck. Crumple zones that provide protection in other front-end collisions are ineffective in underride accidents, because the front of the passenger car does not hit a solid object and therefore doesn’t crumple.


Underride Protection

Federal and state laws require most large commercial vehicles to have rear underride guards. An underride guard hangs down below the bottom edge of the truck. When they work as intended, a passenger car that hits an underride guard will not travel beneath the truck.

Unfortunately, federal regulations do not specify the size of the guards, the materials from which they are made, or the manner by which they are attached to the truck. When an underride guard does not cover the entire width of the rear end, when it is constructed from flimsy materials, or when it is not braced in a way that sustains the guard’s position during a crash, the guard might fail. The results of an underride guard failure are usually fatal.

Federal regulators have asked for comment about proposed changes to regulations of underride guards. Trucking companies are complaining that stronger guards and better bracing will be more expensive, but the value of the lives that would be saved by better underride guards is immeasurable.

In addition, trucks are not generally required to have side underride guards. When a truck jackknives on a highway, oncoming vehicles are at risk of rolling under the side of the truck during a collision. Federal regulations should require side underride guards on all commercial vehicles that ride higher off the ground than a normal passenger car.


Crash Test Data

The Insurance Institute on Highway Safety conducted a series of crash tests, comparing underride guards on American trucks to those on Canadian trucks. The Canadian underride guards performed significantly better than the American underride guards. The IIHS concluded that Canada’s more stringent manufacturing requirements save lives.


Lawsuits Involving Underride Guards

A federal appellate court recently affirmed a $1.2 million verdict against the manufacturer of a rear underride guard. The family of a woman who was killed in a rear-end collision with a truck that stopped on a highway contended that the underride guard was improperly designed.

The family hired an engineer who had substantial experience with underride guards to testify as an expert witness. The engineer told the jury that the guard should have been braced in a way that would have prevented its collapse when the driver collided with the truck. The jury accepted that testimony and returned a wrongful death verdict in the family’s favor.

In another recent case, a truck pulled in front of a driver at an intersection. The driver’s car rolled under the truck. The collision caused a serious head injury leading to brain damage. The driver died after being in a coma for several months. In addition to suing the trucking company, the driver’s family sued the manufacturer of the trailer for failing to install side underride guards.

Many successful lawsuits have been based on the failure to install underride guards or on the installation of inadequate underride guards. Any injured driver, or the family of a deceased driver, who was involved in an underride accident should contact a personal injury attorney who understands the need to seek compensation from all parties that share responsibility for injuries or deaths in motor vehicle collisions.