An underride accident occurs when a passenger vehicle collides with a tractor-trailer or single-unit truck, and a portion of the passenger vehicle slides underneath the truck. These types of crashes are not common, but when they do occur, the consequences to the occupants of the passenger vehicle are very severe.
Because of the height difference between a large truck and a passenger vehicle, an underride impact often occurs at the hood or even windshield level bypassing the impact protections built into the front of the passenger vehicle and subjecting the occupants to the full force of the impact at the chest, neck and head levels.
To help prevent underride accidents, federal law requires large trucks to have rear guards, but the ineffectiveness of many rear underride guards has led to a push for stronger laws. The federal infrastructure bill signed into law last fall requires higher standards for rear underride guards and further research into the utility of side underride guards.
Underride accidents have very serious consequences. Injuries from a crash can be significant and debilitating. Due to crash severity, it can often be surviving family members who are left in the position of making a claim for wrongful death. Successfully resolving these types of claims requires the specialized knowledge and experience of an underride accident lawyer.
Determining fault for the accident is a critical element requiring an analysis of the crash evidence, identifying those who may be potentially responsible, and making a compelling argument as to how the accident happened and why.
The injuries sustained in underride accidents can often result in permanent impairment and require life-long medical treatment. The ability to work may be lost, and quality of life can be diminished. Expert testimony is usually required to establish the extent of the injuries and to place a value on the resulting losses.
A Tulsa underride accident lawyer can help persons injured in underride crashes get all of the compensation they are entitled to after a devastating accident.
In an underride accident, a passenger vehicle collides with the back, front, or side of a large truck at a point where the truck impacts the passenger vehicle at a height that crushes or sometimes sheers off the cabin of the vehicle. The normal protections built into passenger cars to help lessen the impact of crashes are not triggered, and occupants are unprotected from the force of the impact.
Rear underride accidents occur when a passenger car runs into the back of a large truck and the vehicle slides under the back of the truck. Although tractor-trailer trucks are required to have rear underride guards, the effectiveness of the rear guard depends on the quality of the guard, how well it has been maintained, and where on the back of the truck a passenger vehicle strikes it.
Since 1998, federal law requires rear impact guards on trailers weighing 10,000 lbs or more. The problem has been that the guards have not been very effective at preventing rear underride accidents. The recent federal legislation requiring stronger regulations for rear impact guards, including periodic inspections, is hoped to improve rear underride prevention.
Side underride accidents occur when a passenger vehicle contacts the side of a truck trailer and goes under the trailer. An average trailer sits about 48 inches off the ground. The fronts of many passenger vehicles slope downward and are easily less than 48 inches putting the impact at the hood or windshield with catastrophic results to the occupants.
Side impact guards are not required though some trucks do use them. Further research is to be conducted to determine the effectiveness of side guards and how adding them impacts a trailer.
Front underride accidents happen when a passenger car and a big truck collide head-on, and the passenger car goes under the front of the truck. Despite a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that front impact guards be required, there is no current law that requires front guards. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has indicated it will be doing further research into the recommendation.
In an underride accident, the impact point is not low enough to engage with the front of a passenger vehicle. So the structural protections built into a passenger vehicle are not able to reduce the force of the impact on the occupants. The initial impact is often with the hood of the vehicle or the windshield intruding on the passenger compartment with full force.
When passenger vehicle occupants are not killed in underride accidents, they can suffer severe injuries to the head, neck, arms, and torso. Those injuries may include:
According to Stop Underrides, about 600 people die every year in underride accidents. Deaths in underride accidents account for about 22% of the passenger vehicle occupant deaths in accidents involving large trucks. But the numbers may actually be higher than the data reflects.
The NHTSA has suggested that underride crash data is likely underreported due to inconsistencies among reporting agencies when characterizing accident causes in crashes that occur between large trucks and passenger cars. There is no standard definition of an underride crash among state and local police, and less than half of the states even have a field for underride on their crash reporting forms.
Data from reported underride crashes occurring between 2008 and 2017 show that there were a total of 2,191 fatal underride accidents during that period. In any given year, underride crashes make up between 4-6% of the large truck fatalities. The breakdown for the underride point of impact was as follows:
Rear and side-impact underride accidents are the most likely to result in passenger compartment intrusion, which is the most lethal form of underride.
Underride impact guards have been proven effective in reducing underride accidents. Countries outside the United States have required trucks to have both rear and side underride impact guards for decades. But the United States has been slow to adopt laws that require large trucks to prioritize underride crash prevention.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has been testing rear impact guards to standards higher than had been legally required since 2017. Guards that met the IIHS safety standards were given the ‘Toughguard’ award. Toughguard award recipients had to prevent underride in three types of tests involving a mid-sized passenger vehicle going 35 mph upon impact with the rear of a truck.
The recently passed federal infrastructure bill now requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to implement regulations that require rear underride guards to meet the higher standards encouraged by the IIHS and to continue research into the design and development of rear guards that can prevent underride at higher speeds.
The FMCSA also recently amended its safety regulations to now require the annual inspection of rear underride guards. The requirement is designed to focus more attention on rear underride prevention and synchronize the United States with Canada and Mexico which already include rear-guards in their required annual inspections.
Side impact guards can not only prevent passenger vehicle underride but also provide protection to bicyclists and pedestrians. Studies in Europe have shown side guards to be very effective at reducing fatal accidents involving trucks and bicyclists or pedestrians. Close to 50% of the fatal accidents between large trucks and bicyclists and about 25% of the fatalities between big trucks and pedestrians have an initial point of impact at the side of a truck with the cyclist or pedestrian then moving under the truck and being struck by the wheels.
Despite the successful integration of side underride guards in trucks in many other countries, the FMCSA has issued no formal requirements and continues to research the cost and benefit of mandating the implementation of side guards on trucks in the United States.
Some of the considerations from the trucking industry involve the cost of purchasing side guards and the additional weight they add to the load. The initial cost and ongoing maintenance of side guards are high. And they add a considerable amount of weight to a truck that is subject to weight limitations which would mean hauling less cargo per trip.
For serious injury accidents, you need serious legal advocacy. Trust the legal team that cares about getting clients the best results. Call 918-359-6600 or contact Graves McLain here for a free consultation.
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