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Tractor-Trailer Truck Underrail Guards Provide Little Protection

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found current truck underrail guards leave much to be desired when it comes to the safety of other motorists on the road.

The IIHS looked into in the effectiveness of underrail guards, which are installed on the rear of tractor-trailer vehicles to prevent a passenger car from “underriding” the truck, or passing underneath the truck in the event of a rear-end crash. In 1998, the NHTSA required that guards be made longer and wider to further protect passenger car drivers, but the regulation did not include the heavier trucks present on the nation’s roadways.

The IIHS used the top safety-rated Chevrolet Malibu in six tests of the three most used brands of underrail guards. The guards failed in three of the tests, with horrific consequences. Speed did not seem to be a factor, since even a crash at 25 miles per hour had fatal consequences.

The results of the study were stomach-turning. The three tests in which an underrail guard buckled under the impact of a crash, the car underrode the truck, and the back end of the truck sliced through the windshield of the passenger car and half of the vehicle. In the crash tests, the end of the truck made contact with the test dummy’s head, a result which would translate into almost certain decapitation in a real crash.

As a result of its study, the IIHS, which can only recommend regulations, not create them, has urged the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to strengthen the current underrail guard requirements.

In 2009, 70 percent of the 3,163 people who died in truck accidents were occupants of passenger cars.

Until the NHTSA takes action, drivers of passenger cars should be especially alert when following a tractor-trailer truck to avoid the fatal consequences of a rear-end crash with the massive vehicles. Giving trucks plenty of room and staying out of the “no zones”-the left-side, right-side, front and back truck blind spots-will go a long way in protecting passenger car occupants.