As more rigs take to the roads with the proliferation of the e-commerce economy shipping goods directly to doorsteps, truck accidents in Jacksonville and across the U.S. are on the rise.
Although overall advancing technology is making trucks much safer (i.e., forward collision warnings, automatic braking and in-cabin cameras), there is a simple, low-tech solution that could greatly improve outcomes. Two grief-stricken mothers are pushing to make it mandatory, but the trucking industry is resistant. Meanwhile, the European Union, Japan and Brazil have all required it since the 1980s.
We're talking about side underride guards.
How Side Underride Guards Prevent Truck Accidents
These are devices installed on large trucks that physically cover the exposed space on each long side of the truck between the front and rear wheels. The purpose is to prevent cars from sliding underneath the truck. For passenger vehicles, the risk is largely in T-bone collisions, where the vehicle may have its entire roof sheared off, risking occupant decapitation or other catastrophic injury. The Pajcic Firm has handled cases of this nature including one where we received a $13 million verdict.
The guards would also keep bicyclists and pedestrians from being dragged under and run over by the rear wheels. Nearly half of all bicycle accident deaths and one-quarter of all pedestrian accident deaths involving a truck impact the side first.
Recently the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted a series of crash tests to measure the effectiveness of side guards in preventing catastrophic injury and death in trucking accidents. The conclusions were not surprising, though the pictures were startling.
At 35 mph, the passenger vehicle that struck a stationary semi-truck with no side guard crumpled, the entire front of the vehicle completely smashed. It's unlikely anyone would have survived, researchers say. Meanwhile, the other vehicle that crashed into a truck with side guards remained largely intact. Occupants most likely would survive, and further may not suffer any debilitating injuries, as both the seat belts and airbags deployed effectively.
Industry Resistance to Side Guards
The trucking industry does not support the mandate being advocated by the two mothers, who as NPR reported recently have penned a bill in honor of the daughters who were killed in side impact truck crashes.
A representative of the American Trucking Association was quoted as saying the organization believes the best way to prevent underride deaths is to prevent crashes in the first place. That's the reason why $9 billion has been spent on other kinds of safety initiatives, such as automatic emergency braking.
However, our trucking accident attorneys in Jacksonville believe this is a short-sighted stance for a number of reasons. First, if it is possible to prevent any loss of life, it is worth taking decisive action. Secondly, while the technology in which the industry has invested certainly has value, it isn't going to prevent every truck crash. And finally, the trucking industry would lower costs because, as the National Transportation Systems Center reports, aerodynamic truck side skirts - similar to side guards - have been designed to save fuel for those trucks by lowering the air drag. They offer up to 7 percent fuel improvement, and they can be used to repel passenger cars and vulnerable road users.
Although it is not at this juncture a federally-mandated feature, several cities - including Portland, OR, Washington, D.C., Boston, MA and New York City - require side guards on municipal fleet trucks.