Insurance Research Org. Highlights Big Rig Safety Issue

Aerial view of IIHS Vehicle Research Center

The IIHS's Vehicle Research Center in Virginia. (Photo Courtesy of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The latest report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) claims that lax federal regulations are allowing for grisly accidents between big rigs and smaller cars.

IIHS researchers analyzed sets of crash documents and conducted a series of tests in which smaller cars rear-ended tractor trailers, and they found deadly results.

In the tests, rear guards that big rigs are required to be equipped with in order to prevent smaller vehicles from sliding under them completely failed.

These types of accidents–called underride crashes–have the potential to decapitate the driver of  the small car.

More than 400 fatal crashes in 2009 involved rear-end collisions with tractor trailers.

In order to prevent these types of accidents, underride guard requirements were established by the federal government in 1953. “Meanwhile, the passenger vehicle fleet has changed dramatically,” the authors of the report write, and there haven’t been substantial updates made to the federal regulations.

The IIHS has been analyzing underride crashes and calling for new standards since the late 1970s.

The latest investigation involved examining around 1,000 crashes that occurred between 2001 and 2003, in which underride problems were evident frequently in the 115 crashes that involved smaller vehicles smashing into the back of larger trucks.

“Nearly half of the passenger vehicles had underride damage classified as severe or catastrophic, meaning the entire front end or more of the vehicle slid beneath the truck,” according to the report. “Many of the cases of severe underride involved trucks and trailers exempt from underride-related safety standards.”

In the cases where the trucks did have guards, weaknesses often led to the guards’ snapping completely off.

The IIHS-conducted tests showed similarly grim results. In three of the six crashes, “the heads of the dummies in the underriding car made contact with either the intruding trailer or the car’s hood after it tore free and pushed into the occupant compartment.”

In light of the results, the auto insurance industry-funded IIHS is asking once again that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration require larger trucks to have more resilient rear guards and that more trucks be subject to those standards.

In 2009, tractor trailers were involved in more than 2,100 fatal accidents–5 percent of the total accidents for that year, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

The IIHS is funded by US car insurance companies.

About Matthew Morisset
Matthew Morisset is a proud alumnus of the University of Redlands, where he obtained a degree in English Literature. Utilizing his passion for analysis and writing, Matthew looks for important trends in the auto insurance industry and their implications for consumers and the market as a whole.

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