The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently issued a proposal to make rear-impact underride guards a required item on inspections for motor carriers and roadside inspectors. Underride guards are strong metal grates on the back and/or side of a commercial truck that hang down below the trailer to prevent cars from sliding underneath in a collision. Regulations enacted in 1952 required almost all trucks to install rear guards large enough to withstand the force of a crash.
Currently, motor carriers must maintain and annually inspect their underride guards, but some inspectors do not cite truck drivers who have a loose or damaged rear guard. The proposal would change that, requiring guards to be placed on Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) roadside inspection lists. Previously, they have not been on the inspection list, and a commercial vehicle could pass an inspection with a missing or damaged rear guard.
How Many Underride Accidents Occur Each Year?
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the percentage of underride accident fatalities is small compared to total traffic fatalities. An underride accident presents a greater risk of serious injury and death, so the FMCSA proposal is designed to help mitigate injury or death in a rear-end collision. The FMCSA also states that including rear impact guards in annual inspection requirements will call needed attention to these safety components and help ensure the guards are inspected at least once a year. Canada and Mexico currently include rear impact guards and rear protection as part of their inspection programs.
What are the Different Types of Underride Accidents?
An underride accident occurs when a passenger vehicle collides with a straight bed truck or the trailer of a semi-truck, and ends up sliding under the truck, either behind or on the side. These accidents can happen in a matter of seconds. An underride accident can be deadly, even if the truck and passenger vehicle are traveling at low speeds. Many times, the roof of the passenger vehicle is sheered off or severely crumpled, killing the occupants. Sometimes, a passenger vehicle will hit the truck’s rear axle, preventing a full slide underneath. Side underride collisions occur when a passenger vehicle slides underneath the side of a truck rather than the rear.
How Do Underride Accidents Occur?
A variety of factors can cause rear or side underride accidents. Low visibility and rain, snow, and fog are contributing factors, as are high speeds, tailgating by a passenger vehicle, and sudden stops by a truck driver. Rear underride accidents can occur under the following conditions:
- When a poorly marked truck or trailer parked on the side of the road or highway slowly enters the roadway or slows to exit the roadway or at a railroad crossing.
- When a truck has inoperative, dirty, or dim taillights or the taillights are placed too close together, making it difficult to judge the truck’s proximity or whether it is moving.
- When the truck driver fails to use reflective triangles when parked or broken down.
- The truck driver fails to use emergency flashers when entering or exiting a roadway. Drivers on a highway traveling 70 miles per hour (mph) simply do not expect to meet a truck going 45 mph as they enter or exit.
- If it is too dark outside, it is often difficult for a driver of a passenger vehicle to determine the size, depth, and distance of the truck, especially when its taillights are not where a driver expects them to be or are broken or dirty.
Side underride accidents can occur due to the following conditions:
- When a truck driver is attempting to turn onto a street or highway, is making a U-turn, or is trying to back up across traffic.
- During the daytime when the sun is at a low angle
- When the truck has a protruding load, such as beams, lumber, or pipes that have poor reflective qualities or little contrasting color from the truck.
- If a truck has dirty side marker lights that prevent full illumination, making the side of a truck difficult to see.
What Other Safety Precautions Do Trucks Have?
In addition to the 1952 regulation requiring rear underride guards, in 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation mandated conspicuity marking for trailers. Truck carriers most often meet this requirement by using reflective tape that can be seen from long distances on all trailers. The tape must be placed on both the rear and sides of the trailer, 15 to 60 inches from the ground. It must also have a red and white alternating pattern that is standardized to identify trailers. There are additional specifications about height, width, and tape placement. Truck drivers should not rely on reflective tape to ensure visibility. Sometimes, the tape is worn, dirty, or at an invisible angle, making underride accidents a possible hazard.
What are Common Injuries in an Underride Collision?
Underride accidents are among the most horrific. They often sheer off the top of a car or severely damage the roof, killing the passengers inside. If passengers survive, common injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Skull fracture
- Bone fractures
- Spinal cord injuries
- Loss or damage to an internal organ
- Disfigurement, dismemberment, or amputation
- Burns, scarring, and lacerations
Injuries are often severe and require immediate medical care. Some may require extended care, rehabilitation, physical therapy, or the lifelong use of medical equipment.
What Should I Do in an Underride Accident?
After any type of accident, the first step is to seek immediate medical care, even if the injuries do not seem severe. When able, contact a Virginia Beach truck accident lawyer for steps on how best to proceed with a claim. A truck driver or trucking company could be found liable in an accident. Sometimes a truck may not have proper rear or side guards or proper reflective tape. There are several other ways the truck driver or company can be found liable for injuries and other damages. Victims may be compensated for their injuries and other losses, including:
- Reimbursement for medical care costs
- Coverage for special medical needs, such as rehabilitation, physical or occupational therapy, and other costs
- Compensation for loss of income due to inability to work
- Pain and suffering
Virginia Beach Truck Accident Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Advocate for Victims of Truck Accidents
Anyone injured in a truck accident, including rear or side underride accidents, should contact our experienced Virginia Beach truck accident lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC today. We can help discern whether you have a valid claim against the truck driver, trucking company, truck manufacturer, or other party. Call us today at 757-LAW-0000 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.