Trucking accidents are some of the most terrifying crashes. Imagine this: A car runs into the side of an 18-wheeler and crashes underneath, where many of its safety features (seatbelts, airbags) are useless. The top of the vehicle could be ripped off; in many cases, the occupants are killed. Many times this happens when a lane change is made at an unsafe time.
Government data shows that more than 200 people are killed this way every year - grisly deaths that experts say could be stopped if trucks were required to have side guards to repel cars. Unfortunately, the agency in charge of highway safety requires guards on the back of trucks, but not along the sides.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has been considering whether to mandate "side guards" on all trucks since the 1960s. The guards can help prevent 9 out of 10 injuries from under-ride collisions, in which a car hits the side of an 18-wheeler and crashes underneath it. Nearly all trucks in Europe have the potentially life-saving devices installed.
There are many terrible, tragic stories like Lois Durso, whose 26-year-old daughter, Roya Sadigh, was killed in an under-ride crash. A year later, on a visit to Europe, Durso noticed something about all the trucks zooming by. They all had side guards. Durso started investigating the side guards and came to a dreadful conclusion: If the truck her daughter's car collided with had been armed with them, she would still be alive. "I was very angry - with the trucking manufacturers and also the federal government," she said. "They're fully aware people are dying as a result of their trailer design. And yet they do nothing about it."
When Hollywood starlet Jayne Mansfield died on a Louisiana highway nearly 50 years ago it sparked the first calls for rear and side protection. But it wasn't until 1998 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) required rear guards - known as Mansfield bars - on trailers. However, side guards are still not required, even though the NTSB, which investigates accidents, determined that they would reduce injuries and deaths on America's roads. NTSB issued an optional recommendation to the NHTSA in April 2014 that all new trailers have side protection systems.
The trucking industry claims that side guards are not cost-effective, could weaken parts of the trailer, and dangerously increase their weight, according to one report. But Joan Claybrook, a consumer advocate who headed NHTSA in the 1970s, said technology isn't the stumbling block. "It's very difficult politically, because the trucking industry wants to stop any safety standards that it can, because it increases the price of a truck," she said.
In a statement, the American Trucking Association said "we believe preventing crashes should be the preeminent strategic safety goal, and that the best underride guard is one that never gets used. Rather than focus on lessening the impact of a crash after it occurs, we believe the focus should be on preventing crashes through education, enforcement of speed limits, adoption of distracted and aggressive driving laws, and increased use of technology including automatic emergency braking and collision warning systems that provide safety benefits that are the precursors to what we may see from autonomous vehicles in the future."
Though this sentiment is sincere, it certainly isn't very fasible. In a perfect world, we would eliminate trucking accidents but as long trucks are still being driven by human drivers, there will be human error.
What do you think? Should trucks be required to have side guards?
The Hill "Report: Trucking industry avoids mandatory safety devices" February 7, 2017
NBC News "Side Underride Crashes Kill 200 People a Year. Will Congress Act?" February 7, 2017