The fiery crash that killed one person was a horrific sight. In early February, an SUV traveling at a high rate of speed left the roadway and smashed into the rear of an 18-wheel truck parked on a roadside in Austin. Because of the speed it traveled, the SUV slid underneath the truck’s trailer even though the large truck was equipped with a rear underride guard.
This is an example of an underride accident. And this one killed the driver of the SUV on Feb. 1. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), an average of 219 people died each year in underride accidents on American roads during the 10-year period of 2008 to 2017. But the GAO admits that that number may be too low due to discrepancies in how governments document such data.
‘Stop Underrides Act’
What is an underride accident? Such a collision occurs when another vehicle – a car, pickup, SUV or van – skids and slides underneath the rear or side of a large 18-wheel truck. Such an accident gained notoriety in the U.S. in 1967 upon the death of actress Jayne Mansfield, killed along with two others near New Orleans in an underride accident. Federal lawmakers soon took action to help prevent such accidents, requiring all trailers to be equipped with rear underride guards.
Safety advocates had long lobbied for additional action, but to no avail as they faced strong opposition from the trucking industry. In March, the U.S. Senate took its latest step toward enacting a law preventing these terrible crashes.
The result is the Stop Underrides Act, a federal law that would require newly built large trucks to be fitted with side and front underride guards and create safety improvements on rear underride guards. The law would not apply to the millions of large trucks already on U.S. roads.
Let us watch how this plays out in Washington and hope that lawmakers do not continue to succumb to the lobbying efforts of the trucking industry. The law could lead to fewer traffic fatalities involving large trucks.