A new study advocates for a federal mandate
We’re starting to sound like a broken record. Side underride crashes are devastatingly gruesome, and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety is showing us why.
Evaluating side guards for the first time, the IIHS rolled out new video showing two types of crashes—one in which the truck is outfitted with a protective side underride guard, the other without. The results are dramatically different.
The footage shows two 35-mph crash tests involving a 53-foot long-dry van trailer and a standard mid-size car. The first test features a typical fiberglass side skirt intended only to improve the aerodynamics of the truck. The second test focuses exclusively on the AngelWing side underride protection device designed by Airflow Deflector, Inc.
As the video makes clear, the fiberglass side skirt does nothing to prevent the car from sliding under the truck, which in turn severs the sedan’s roof and shatters the windshield. The skirt may save the truck company some money on fuel, but it’s worthless from a safety standpoint.
By contrast, the AngelWing side guard absorbs the impact of the oncoming car and prevents it from sliding under the truck. Also important to note: the side guard allows the car to deploy its airbags while keeping the seat belt harnesses intact. Not only does it stop the car from riding under the trailer, but it also triggers the car’s own safety features.
Both crashes are severe but the difference is striking. The first test sees the sedan run into the trailer and keep going, wedging it beneath the trailer. “In a real-world crash like this,” according to the IIHS study, “any occupants in the car would likely sustain fatal injuries.”
More from the study:
In 2015, 301 of the 1,542 passenger vehicle occupants killed in two-vehicle crashes with a tractor-trailer died when their vehicles struck the side of a tractor-trailer. This compares with the 292 people who died when their passenger vehicles struck the rear of a tractor-trailer.
A 2012 IIHS study found that strong side underride guards have the potential to reduce injury risk in about three-fourths of large truck side crashes producing a fatality or serious injury to a passenger vehicle occupant. This proportion increased to almost 90 percent when restricted to crashes with semitrailers.
At least three major U.S. cities mandate protective side underride guards on all city owned trucks—New York, Boston, and Seattle. Chicago is currently testing side underride guards as part of a pilot project for its Vision Zero plan.
The implementation of side underride guards is perhaps one of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent unnecessary deaths, yet the United States continues to lack a basic federal standard for these simple safety features. Experts agree, that needs to change.
“Our tests and research show that side underride guards have the potential to save lives,” said David Zuby, the Institute’s executive vice president and chief research officer, in a statement. “We think a mandate for side underride guards on large trucks has merit, especially as crash deaths continue to rise on our roads.”