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Proposed Bill Prompted by Deadly Truck Wrecks Calls for Mandatory Side Underride Guards

By: Allan M. Siegel

In many of our blog posts, we have discussed the immense dangers commercial trucks and tractor-trailers pose to public safety, as well as the numerous regulations in place designed to reduce those risks. Unfortunately, we have also detailed many shortcomings in the regulatory landscape surrounding commercial trucking, as well as efforts that have pursued and resulted in rollbacks of critical safety regulations. This includes the recent suspension of certain hours-of-service rules which required truckers to take mandatory rest breaks, and numerous efforts to loosen regulations over safety protections involving issues such as vehicle weight and length limits, commercial drivers with sleep apnea, commercial driver’s license age requirements, and more.

With an administration that favors deregulation, the trucking industry has already made some victories in blocking or rolling back safety regulations. The industry has also been successful in preventing long-proposed safety measures from becoming law. This includes requirements that trucks be fitted with side underride guards – which are metal guard bars that prevent passenger vehicles from traveling beneath a tractor-trailer and which considerably reduce risks of catastrophic injuries and death. Following recent fatal crashes, however, two U.S. Senators have introduced a bill that would require side guards.

About the Bill

The bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Marco Rubio and Kirsten Gillibrand was prompted in part by a recent Oswego County crash in which four victims were killed after their vehicles slid under a jackknifed milk tanker truck. The crash received widespread attention for its devastation, and led to Senator Charles Schumer’s call for new safety standards after meeting with families and co-workers of the victims. Under current regulations, which have been in place since 1998, underride guards are only required to be installed on the rear end of commercial trucks. Those guards have been proven to help reduce injuries and deaths caused by rear underride accidents that killed numerous Americans in the years prior to the legislative change, including Actress Jayne Mansfield and 3 others in 1967. The new bill would require similar guards to be installed on both sides of tractor-trailers in order to prevent side underride accidents.

A Positive Change for Public Safety

Due in part to extensive lobbying and the opposition of major players in the trucking industry, lawmakers have been historically sluggish in passing side underride guard regulations – regulations that have been proven to save lives. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has reported that side underride guards could prevent hundreds of deaths each year in the U.S., and significantly reduce the potential for life-altering injuries common in these wrecks. Unfortunately, the power of profits and money have overshadowed concerns for public safety when it comes to side guards. With renewed attention to the devastating nature of these wrecks, as well as the availability of a proven safety measure, our legal team and many other advocates are hopeful the new proposed legislation will lead to a positive change for public safety. We have long supported the use of side underride guards, and earlier this year discussed just how effective they can be when limiting risks of death and serious injuries. That particular blog post featured crash test footage showing truck collisions with and without side underride guards. The footage – which you can view here – speaks for itself.

As we have seen representing victims of truck accidents throughout Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia, commercial trucking companies are unlikely to exert much effort in adopting safety measures that harm their bottom line unless they are compelled to do so by law. This is why we strongly support the new bill. We also remain committed to holding trucking companies liable when their failures to prioritize safety causes preventable harm. Our legal team is always available to help truck accident victims explore their rights during free and confidential consultations.