A bill requiring rear underride guards on certain new trucks and trailers would bring reassurance to families who have lost loved ones in underride accidents while trucking groups are opposed. The term “underride” refers to an accident in which one vehicle partially slides underneath another, particularly when a passenger vehicle slides beneath a large truck. Senators Gillibrand Rubio reintroduced the Stop Underrides Act to the Senate on March 8. The bill would require rear, side and front underride guards on trailers and tractor-trailers weighing more than 10,000 pounds, as well as on single-unit trucks that have a carriage more than 22 inches above the ground and weigh more than 10,000 pounds. Under current law, underride guards are not required on the sides or front of trucks. Underride guards are already required on the back of a trailer.
The bill was initially drafted by Marianne Karth and Lois Durso Hawkins after their children died following separate underride crashes. Karth and her children were traveling on Interstate 20 in Georgia on May 4, 2013, when a semi-truck hit the back of their vehicle, spinning the car around and forcing it underneath a second semi-truck. Karth and her son survived, but her daughters, AnnaLeah and Mary, were killed. “I learned that it wasn’t the crash that killed them, because I was in the crash and sitting in the front seat,” Karth said in a Truck Safety News Conference on Monday, March 8. “We survived because our part of the car did not go under the truck. It was the underride.” Hawkins, who lost her daughter, Roya, in a 2013 underride collision, agrees that it was the underride rather than the collision that led to her daughter’s death.
The distance from the undercarriage of a semi-truck and the pavement is 41 inches, while the height from a car’s hood is about 33 inches, according to Karth. “When there’s a collision, the car can easily slide under,” she said. Eric Hein lost his son, Riley, to an underride collision on Nov. 13, 2015 in New Mexico. Hein challenged the trucking company in court and was awarded $42 million as a result of negligence. “They were aware that side underride guards were not on the semi-trailer that they had produced,” Hein said. “The lack of underride guards contributed to Riley’s death.” Roy Crawford, a crash reconstruction specialist, lost his son, Guy, in an underride crash. “Even with a really good underride guard, the main problem we need to work on is avoiding these crashes in the first place,” Crawford said. “Vehicles should not be stopped or traveling slowly on high-speed highways. They should be conspicuous enough that people can see them in time. Even with a good underride guard, if you hit it at a high enough speed and it works, you can still be killed because the human body can only take so much of an impact.”
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