Under-ride guards on tractor trailers still failing-death likely

In 2009, approximately 3,163 people were killed as a result of a crash with a tractor trailer. At leaset 97 of those deaths were reported in Georgia. Many of these accidents were caused by a passenger car rear ending the tractor trailer and becoming imbedded under the truck body. These types of accidents are referred to as “under-ride accidents.”

Under-ride accidents makes death or serious injury more likely since the upper part of the passenger vehicle’s compartment crushes as the truck body intrudes into the vehicle safety cage. The problem is that the car sits low and the tractor trailer sits high. So, of course, when they make impact, the car is going to go under the truck body- resulting in death.

In 1996, the NHTSA published a final rule establishing two Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) – 223, Rear Impact Guards, and 224, Rear Impact Protection. FMVSS 223, the equipment standard, specified strength requirements and compliance procedures for rear impact guards on semitrailers. FMVSS 224, the vehicle standard, specified mounting instructions and location specifications for those guards. (The NHTSA has done very little to improve these standards over the past 15 years.)

Earlier this year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performed a series of crash tests to determine which under-ride guards performed better as well as what type of failures occurred. The testing was performed on both Canadian and U.S. tractor trailers using a low speed impact of 35 miles per hour. As you can see in the video attached below, the Canadian tractor trailer withstood the impact significantly better than the U.S. tractor trailer. Clearly, the Canadian requirements for strength and absorption are much stricter than the U.S. requirements.

On February 28, 2011, the IIHS filed a petition for increased rear impact protection with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requesting that the NHTSA reopen FMVSS 223 and 224 to:
  • Substantially increase the quasi-static force requirements, at least to levels that would guarantee all guards are as strong as the Wabash;
  • Move the P1 test location father outboard to improve the offset crash protection;
  • Require that attachment hardware remains intact throughout the tests;
  • Require guards be certified while attached to the trailers for which they are designed;
  • Investigate whether the maximum guard ground clearance can be reduced; and
  • Reduce the number of exempt truck and trailer types.

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