The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has estimated that over 5,000 passengers in vehicles are injured or killed each year when their vehicles strike the backs of large trucks. These injuries, and approximately 70 percent of the fatalities are a direct result underride collisions—where the passenger cars become lodged under the semi-trailers. Depending on the force and speed in which the cars ram into the back of the trucks, the edge of the trailer can literally cut off the tops of the vehicles. This not only can cause massive damage to the car, but also to anyone who is unlucky enough to be within it.
Although cars are rated to be able to withstand front-end impacts, the problem is that the inside compartment is at the exact level as most trailer bottoms. This means that when a car rear ends a truck, the engine block—which is supposed to be able to absorb the impact—slides underneath the trailer, leaving the fragile windshield as the only barrier between you and the slicing force of the trailer’s edge.
Safety Guards and Their Importance
Due to the horrific nature of underride accidents, trucks are required to have underride safety guards to help prevent vehicles from going under the trailers. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, these guards are the main countermeasure for reducing underride deaths and injuries from rear-end truck collisions. These guards are basic metal bars attached to the underside of semi-trailers. They have three main functions: barriers, stopping blocks, and impact absorbers. The following is an overview:
- Barriers. The main problem for underride accidents is that semi-truck trailers are higher off the ground than a normal car’s axis. Therefore, a car’s front end can easily fit underneath a truck’s trailer. However, by having guards placed on the same axis level as normal vehicles, they act as barriers to prevent a car’s front end from sliding underneath the rear end of a semi-truck’s trailer.
- Stopping blocks. Since the metal bars are placed at a lower level than the trailers themselves, they prevent the front end of a vehicle from continuing under the trailer unimpeded. Instead of having nothing to stop the vehicle until the upper carriage hits the trailer’s edge, the guards provide a block for the engine and front end of the vehicle to essentially hit first, thus stopping the car from continuing forward.
- Impact absorber. In underride collisions, the main structures that help absorb the impact force on cars—the front bumper, engine block, and front axis—are completely bypassed as they slide under the trailer. This means that all the force that the vehicles have is exerted into the impact of the trailer into the upper compartment. This can cause the top of the car to sheer off and crush the windshield, roof, and everything in between. However, with guards, the impact force is exerted where it can be managed—at the front of the vehicles.
Are They Enough?
Now that you know the horrific consequences of underride collisions, do you think that metal safety guards are enough to protect against underride accidents? Do you think that truck manufacturers should create better safeguards? Let us and our readers know your thoughts and concerns by leaving your opinions and questions in the comment section. You can help our clients learn from your experiences and thoughts, and you can help us better connect with those who feel the same way as you. Please share your stories and perhaps we can all get a better understanding of how to be safe and secure around trucks.
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