Once again, federal lawmakers are pursuing legislation that could save hundreds of lives each year stemming from underride collisions in which a motor vehicle crashes into the side or rear of a large truck and its trailer.

In early March, the Stop Underrides Act was introduced for the third time, receiving applause from victim advocates of motor vehicle accidents. Sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), the legislation would require the installation of guards on the side and front of all large trucks and trailers. Currently, guards are only required on the rear of the trucks and trailers. However, the bill would provide updated safety standards pertaining to such rear guards.

Catastrophic injuries and fatalities

Underride accidents prove deadly or lead to catastrophic injuries. They occur when a motor vehicle slides under the rear or sides of the large truck or its semi-trailer. Such crashes at low speeds even lead to serious injury because a trailer’s undercarriage is liable to rip through a car’s passenger compartment. The potential results are severe injuries to the neck and head as well as decapitation.

Underride guards are an effective method to prevent or minimize such injuries and fatalities. The guards consist of steel bars, intended to prevent other motor vehicles from sliding underneath.

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) reported that in 2019, more than 850 people died in motor vehicle crashes with the rear or side of a large truck. The IIHS noted that 80% of the close to 7,000 fatalities involving collisions with the rear or side of a large truck included some type of underride.

In 2012, the IIHS released findings that side underride guards could reduce injury risk in 75% of all collisions between a passenger vehicle and the side of a large truck.

Victim advocates long sought updates

For decades, victim advocates have sounded the alarm about the dangers of underride collisions, lobbying for improved safety standards.

A high-profile 1967 underride accident that resulted in the deaths of actress Jayne Mansfield and two others soon led federal lawmakers to create a law requiring the installation of underride guards on the rear of tractor-trailers.

Lawmakers have taken the right step.