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NTSB Issues New Safety Recommendations to Prevent Catastrophic Tractor-Trailer “Underride” Accidents

You may never have heard of the word “underride” before, but if you can picture your car next to an 18-wheeler, and think of the height of your car compared to the bottom of the truck, you can get an idea of what that means.

“Underride” is the term used when a passenger car slides under the side or rear of the container of a big-rig. The differences in the height between car bumpers and tractor-trailer undercarriages can lead to devastation when a car hits the rear or side of a tractor-trailer. Along with blind spots, “underride” issues are some of the larger dangers unique to tractor-trailers and semi-trucks.

In an effort to reduce the numerous catastrophic injuries and fatalities caused every year by these issues, the National Transportation Safety Board in early April issued seven recommendations urging the National Highway Safety Administration to take action to improve the safety of tractor-trailers.

“Millions of large trucks travel our roadways every day, transporting goods and keeping the American economy moving,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “But research shows that eliminating blind spots and underride events would reduce fatalities and injuries involving other road users.”

UNDERRIDE AND SIDE COLLISIONS

The NTSB’s recommendations focused in part on side collisions with tractor-trailers. According to the NTSB, collisions with the sides of tractor-trailers result in about 500 deaths each year and many of these deaths involved side underride. “Side underride collisions are an important safety problem because they defeat crumple zones and prevent air bag deployment, both vital safety advances in improving protection of passenger vehicle occupants during crashes,” the NTSB said.  The recommendations call for a requirement that newly manufactured tractor-trailers be equipped with side underride protection systems, and that revisions be made to improve trailer rear underride guard standards to better protect passenger vehicle occupants from fatalities and serious injuries.

BLIND SPOT REDUCTION

Tractor-trailers may have blind spots that can reduce the ability of drivers to see other vehicles and road users. A study by the NTSB found that this limited field of view can increase the risk of death or injury among passenger vehicle occupants, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists when drivers of tractor-trailers change lanes, make turns, go straight, or back up.

To combat these blind spot dangers, the NTSB is recommending a combination of better mirrors, such as crossover convex mirrors, as well as requiring all new trucks to be equipped with new technology such as side view assistance systems that monitor a truck’s blind spot with sensors, and rearview cameras and monitors.

As the “Crossroads of America,” Indiana sees more than its share of catastrophic tractor-trailer accidents. While it remains to be seen whether these recommendations will be implemented, any efforts to improve the safety of semi-trucks and reduce the likelihood of serious injuries and deaths should be supported.

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