Crash tests show safety standards don’t save lives

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Mar 02, 2011 in Car Accidents

The long and winding roads of West Virginia see a lot of truck traffic -- pick-up trucks, coal trucks, dump and garbage trucks. Every driver in the state knows that moment of panic when a truck stops short in front of you or does something unexpected. And every driver knows that tractor trailers pose a specific risk to passenger vehicles: A car hitting the back end of a tractor trailer will probably result in catastrophic injuries or fatalities for the passengers in the car.

These accidents are called "rear underride" accidents. Because the bumper of the truck is so high, the car will collide with the truck and slide under it. It's a neutral term, considering the damage involved. Nationwide, about 350 people die in rear underride crashes every year.

Something called a rear impact guard is installed on trailers to close that gap between the bumper and the road and to stop cars before they slide underneath the truck. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) decided to conduct some crash tests to see how these guards hold up.

The video is shocking. Each of the 2010-model-year Chevy Malibus driven into parked trailers smashes through the guard and is crushed under the trailer. The air bags deploy, but the crash dummies take enough of the impact that the IIHS says humans in their place would most likely be killed. The cars were going 35 miles an hour.

The guards were all in compliance with federal safety standards.

The IIHS conducted the test again, this time using trucks with Canadian guards installed. The guards held up, stopping the vehicle before it could smash under the trailer. The Canadian standards call for guards 75 percent stronger than ours.

The study led the organization to conclude that the standards must be revised. A victim of a rear underride crash agrees. "We need lower, safer, more energy-absorbing guards," said the woman who has undergone 40 surgeries since the accident.

The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration knows this. The agency's statement responding to the IIHS findings said that the safety issues have been under review for a couple of years. The review should be wrapped up some time in 2011 or 2012.

History has shown that change is slow to come when you're talking about truck safety. The last update to safety standards took 20 years.

Source: ABC News, "Truck Underride Accidents: Drivers Endangered When Cars Slide Under Trailers," Lisa Stark, 03/blog/11

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