Every collision between an 18-wheeler and a passenger vehicle involves a huge disparity in size, weight and power. But these aren’t the only things that make truck accidents so dangerous to the people inside the car, pickup truck or SUV.
Due to the size of its wheels, a semi truck’s trailer sits high off the road. High enough that the average car’s front section can pass underneath it before the windshield crashes into the edge. This is called an underride crash, and it is notoriously dangerous, even for truck accidents. At least 400 Americans were killed in underride collisions in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
They are also largely preventable with relatively affordable equipment, though trucking companies have spent decades resisting regulations requiring it.
How underride guards help make truck accidents a little safer
Steel guards installed at the rear and sides of the trailer, called underride guards, block smaller vehicles from going underneath. Instead, the car crashes into the guard. While the driver and passengers can still get hurt, colliding with an underside guard usually activates their vehicle’s crumple zones and front airbags, reducing the risk of fatal and catastrophic injury.
The trucking lobby eventually agreed to federal rules requiring rear underride guards. But it continues to resist guards on the sides. Despite decades of research into truck crashes, trucking companies argue that it is still unclear if side guards would save lives and that they cannot afford to equip their fleets with them. The NHTSA says it has recently formed a committee to study side underride guards and consider new regulations.
Many truck accidents are the truck driver’s fault for speeding, failing to signal or otherwise driving recklessly. Because the harm to the victims tends to be severe, they often face huge medical bills and other costs and are forced to stop working for months, years or the rest of their lives. Trucking companies often can be held liable for a negligent driver.