It is common knowledge that bad wrecks and fatalities can occur when a semi-truck hits a passenger car. But what happens when the tables are turned? What chance does a regular car have when it impacts a semi-truck? More specifically, what chance does it have if it hits the rear of the trailer portion or the side of the trailer?
In recent years the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has asked these questions on a “semi” regular basis. Many are familiar with the IIHS from their appearances on the hit television series Dateline. They originally created stricter crash tests that went further than government regulations, starting with a frontal offset test. Now, they test everything from roof stability in rollover accidents to pre-collision warning systems. However, they are currently making waves with their testing of semi-trucks. The IIHS has dedicated a lot of time and money to something they call “Truck underride guard evaluations”. In other words, this group investigates what happens to cars when they impact the sides or rear of semi-trailers. The IIHS recently held their 2nd national meeting and conference on the dangers associated with Truck underride accidents.
[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrL7AUMT4To” width=”500″ height=”380″]So why is the IIHS is putting so much effort into studying these accidents? One look at the crash tests will provide a frightening answer. Impacting the side or rear of a semi-trailer can be fatal, even for a car with an excellent safety rating. While every manufacturer is hedging their bets on crossovers and large trucks/SUVs, many Americans still buy cars. Traditional cars, like family sedans for instance, ride lower than a crossover or a truck. It’s easy for a car to become wedged under the trailer if it impacts the trailer from the side or rear. Depending on which trailer manufacturer is impacted, drivers can be decapitated. What the IIHS argues is that these deaths and injuries can be prevented by stronger or reinforced guards.
Currently, there are federal regulations in place for semi-trucks. The rear of every semi-trailer on the road has a guard on it to prevent a car from becoming pinned underneath. Some cars are safer than others, and the same holds true for trailer manufacturers. Some current trailer guards work very well. Others fail. Tragically, those failures can result in the loss of life.
Recently, the IIHS tested trailers from 8 different manufacturers. Each trailer was tested in scenarios mimicking a full impact, 50%, and 30% impacts. The results showed that many trailer manufacturers have made vast improvements over the past several years. However, a few manufacturers failed the test. Complete results can be found here.
Another area of concern: the sides of trailers do not have guards. Some have aftermarket materials in place to increase fuel mileage, but they do not prevent a car from being trapped. The IIHS is currently working on raising awareness for side trailer guards, as well.
Pre-collision safety systems are another issue with semi-trailers that warrants further discussion. Depending on where the pre-collision warning camera or radar sensor is placed on a car, it may not detect the side of a trailer. If this is the case, the self-braking feature will not activate. This is believed to be the cause of a highly publicized accident involving a Tesla Model S and a semi-truck last year. Regulations for side-guards on trailers could help pre-collision systems work more effectively.
There is good news to report, though. Since the IIHS started their public awareness campaigns, several manufacturers have adapted their rear guards to pass the IIHS standards. Events like the conference bring together individuals with organizations that share the common goal of reducing accidents related to under guards.
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