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One of the most dangerous types of truck accidents is a truck underride collision — when a passenger vehicle strikes a commercial truck and then slides underneath it. Such collisions commonly occur when a commercial truck jackknifes — when the trailer pushes in front of the towing vehicle as the result of a skid.  This is what led to the death of four men on July 5 in Sandy Creek, N.Y.

According to reports, a truck driver lost control when he swerved to avoid hitting several deer in the road. The truck jackknifed, blocking both northbound lanes. The driver of a 2002 Mercury Sable was unable to avoid striking the tanker, and his car passed under it before coming to rest in a ditch. He and his two passengers were all pronounced dead at the scene. Shortly thereafter, the driver of a Subaru suffered the same fate. The truck driver was not injured in the crash.

Two weeks after the fatal crash, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing for tougher safety regulations in order to better protect drivers and passengers involved in underride crashes. He says, “If the truck had a protective barrier, known as underride guards, the cars would have been stopped, better protecting both the driver and the passengers.”

Underride guards are a kind of metal bumper that hangs from the back of a high-riding semi to stop a smaller vehicle from sliding underneath in a rear-end crash. Federal law requires large trucks to have rear underride guards but not side underride guards. Yet, side underride crashes involving tractor-trailers and passenger vehicles kill about 200 motorists every year in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Earlier this year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released the results of new crash tests on the effectiveness of side underride guards in the event of a crash. “Our tests and research show that side underride guards have the potential to save lives,” says David Zuby, the Institute’s executive vice president and chief research officer. “We think a mandate for side underride guards on large trucks has merit, especially as crash deaths continue to rise on our roads.”

Why, then, does the federal government has no laws, rules or regulations requiring side guards on tractor trailers? Proposed measures are continuously defeated. Why? Safety advocates say it’s due to the substantial amount of money that the transportation industry donates to key lawmakers who regulate transportation.

Trucking lobbyists, such as the Truck Trailer Manufacturer Association, claim:

  • The requirements would be costly to implement; to upgrade existing rear guards alone could cost up to $2,000.
  • The underride guards are technically challenging to install.
  • The added weight could reduce the amount of goods that the trucks could carry due to weight limits, thereby affecting profits.

While the lobbyists claim finances are the issue, in a May 2015 press release, the American Trucking Association announced that trucking industry revenues topped $700 billion for the first time in 2014.

“Our truck safety standards are lacking. It is putting drivers and passengers at risk every time they get on the road. But the federal government is now sitting on its hands. We have these recommendations, but nothing is being done,” said Schumer.

In this recent incident, there would still have been an accident, but it may have resulted in far less consequences if the semi had side underride guards. How many drivers have to die for the industry to recognize this safety improvement as being worthwhile for everyone? “Safety comes first,” Schumer said. “Industry always resists. They want to save money. Saving money is a good thing … but life and safety has to come first. The loss of these lives is not a dollar figure. The quicker the federal government can come up with safety standards, the quicker the installation of truck under­ride guards, the quicker we can prevent tragedies like the awful one that occurred two weeks ago here on I-81.”

Mark Bello has practiced law for 40 years. He is currently the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company, and the author of the legal thriller “Betrayal of Faith” (available on major online book store sites) and “Betrayal of Justice” (to be released this fall).

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