Personal Injury Lawyers,
Jacksonville, FL

Crash Victim Families Push for Stronger Truck Rear-Guard Standards

A view from behind two large trucks driving side by side on a highway. The trucks have visible rear underride guards, which are designed to prevent smaller vehicles from sliding underneath in the event of a rear collision.

In a move that has frustrated safety advocates, federal regulators have turned down a request from parents of truck accident victims to investigate weak truck rear-guard standards. Jerry and Marianne Karth, Eric Hein, and Lois Durso-Hawkins filed a petition in 2022 asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate fatal crashes involving underride collisions.

Underride crashes involve smaller vehicles, like cars, sliding underneath the side or rear of larger vehicles, such as semi-trucks or tractor-trailers. These types of collisions are particularly dangerous, often resulting in fatal outcomes or severe injuries for the occupants of the smaller vehicle.

The petitioners argued that without government intervention, truck and trailer manufacturers wouldn't voluntarily address this "unreasonable risk to public safety." They pointed out that more effective truck rear-guard technology exists, has been thoroughly studied, and would provide a simple, cost-effective solution to prevent these deadly accidents.

How did the NHTSA respond to the request for stronger truck rear-guard standards?

Eileen Sullivan, NHTSA's associate administrator for enforcement, explained the denial in a notice issued recently. She stated that the agency believes ongoing rulemaking and actions required by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law better address the issues raised in the petition.

The NHTSA reviewed more than 200 news articles about fatal truck accidents submitted by the petitioners. However, they found that only 22 involved box trailers. Of those, they could only pinpoint the trailer manufacturer in nine cases. The model years remained undetermined in all instances.

Shortly after receiving the petition, the NHTSA finalized new minimum truck rear-guard standards and replaced the original 1996 standards. These updated standards took effect on January 11, 2023, with a compliance deadline of July 15, 2024.

How are safety advocates responding to updated truck rear-guard standards?

Despite the NHTSA's efforts, safety advocates argue that the new standards don't adequately address the issue. Former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook called the rule "regulatory malpractice." She pointed out that 94% of trailers already met the new standards and suggested that the NHTSA had "lowered the bar on public safety instead of ensuring it."

In response, Sullivan mentioned that the NHTSA continues researching rear impact guard designs to help prevent vehicle occupant injuries and deaths in underride crash scenarios. Additionally, the agency has created an advisory committee on underride protection to provide recommendations on safety regulations to reduce these types of crashes.

Since filing the petition, Jerry Karth has joined NHTSA's advisory committee on underride protection. This appointment allows him to contribute directly to discussions and recommendations on safety regulations.

Marianne Karth, who lost her daughters AnnaLeah and Mary in an underride collision in 2013, expressed frustration with the NHTSA's decision. She told FreightWaves, “NHTSA references the 2022 final rule, which updated previous standards but still falls short of standards that insurers and manufacturers have shown can prevent underride crashes.”

While NHTSA denied this specific petition, they haven't closed the door on future actions. According to Sullivan, the decision to turn down the petitioners' request won't deter the agency from taking further steps if warranted. As the July 2024 compliance deadline for the new truck rear-guard standards approaches, all eyes will be on the trucking industry to see how effectively these measures reduce underride accidents.

Why do underride crashes occur?

Underride crashes often involve the negligent actions or inactions of truckers, trucking companies, or third parties and can lead to catastrophic collisions. Here's how negligence typically contributes to these accidents:

Lack of Proper Underride Guards

Many large commercial trucks are not equipped with sufficient underride guards, which are meant to prevent vehicles from sliding underneath. Inadequate or missing guards significantly increase the risk of deadly underride incidents.

Poor Visibility

Inadequate lighting or reflectors on trucks can make them difficult to see, especially at night or in poor weather conditions. This reduced visibility can lead to collisions where a smaller vehicle crashes into the side or rear of the truck.

Sudden Stops

If an 18-wheeler stops abruptly and the following vehicle cannot react in time, it may slide under the truck. This is often exacerbated by malfunctioning brake lights.

Faulty or Poorly Maintained Equipment

Neglected maintenance of brakes, lights, and other critical equipment on commercial trucks can lead to dangerous situations on the road. Malfunctioning brakes might cause sudden stops, and faulty lights can reduce visibility, both of which are common causes of underride crashes.

Truck Driver Negligence

Truckers who fail to adhere to safety protocols, such as not using signals, abrupt lane changes, or allowing enough space for other vehicles, can create hazardous conditions that lead to underride crashes.

Our law firm is committed to justice for crash victims and their families

The tragic stories of families such as the Karths are a powerful reminder of the human cost behind these regulatory decisions. While progress may seem slow, the ongoing dialogue between safety advocates, regulators, and the trucking industry remains critical in the pursuit of safer roads for all.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a truck accident, don't wait to take action. An experienced truck accident attorney at Pajcic & Pajcic can investigate your crash and build a strong case on your behalf for the maximum compensation you deserve. We handle aggressive insurance companies and fight for the rights of truck crash victims in North Florida and throughout the United States. We have a proven track record of successful case outcomes, including:

When you're ready to take the first step toward protecting your rights, contact us online or call our Jacksonville law office for a free consultation. We'll answer any questions you have and outline your case moving forward.

Categories: Posts

Pajcic & Pajcic
1 Independent Dr Suite 1900
Jacksonville, FL 32202

Local: 904-358-8881

Fax: 904-354-1180