'Miracle' crash prompts call for side guards on trucks

Most underride crashes result in severe injuries

INDIANAPOLIS - An 18-year-old woman tells RTV6 she is "blessed" to believe alive after her car was crushed underneath a semi-truck then dragged for one-fifth of a mile.
           
Police say Mariah Mitchell was driving on Interstate 70 Thursday evening when she lost control of her car and fishtailed into the side of a truck.
           
Experts tell RTV6 in most side underride crashes like Mitchell's, the driver suffers severe head injuries or decapitation.
           
Mitchell told Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney she suffered an open gash to her arm and chest pain, but she was able to duck out of the way of the semi-truck's side.
          
"I moved to the side," said Mitchell.
           
The crash is reigniting calls for side guards on large trucks, which are not required in the United States but are used in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China and Europe.
           
"This particular lady was exceedingly lucky," said Bruce Enz, a crash analyst and national expert based in Indianapolis who has investigated more than 7,000 crashes.
           
Enz said most underride crashes are horrific, even at lower speeds.
           
"That means quadriplegic, brain damage, brain injury and death from head injury," said Enz.
           
The Call 6 Investigators exposed the dangers of side underride crashes in a special report that aired last month.
           
Bill Hutchins of Hobart also collided into the side of a truck on an interstate and was dragged, but unlike Mitchell, Hutchins was injured with neck and back problems.
           
Enz said side guards on trucks could help prevent injuries like those to Hutchins and Mitchell.
           
He designed side guards that could become popular if federal law makes them mandatory.
           
"Depending on the strength of the guard, it will eliminate the vehicle from going underneath the trailer," said Enz. "You can survive broken bones, cuts and bruises, but you don't survive decapitation."           

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety contends that side guards have the potential to save lives.

An IIHS analysis of crashes in which vehicles hit the side of large trucks found that out of 143 crashes in which the truck side impact produced the most severe injury, more than half would not have been as severe if there had been side guards on the truck.

The trucking industry has largely been opposed to requirements for side guards.

The American Trucking Associations said the focus should be on preventing crashes in the first place through driver education and collision avoidance technology in cars and trucks.

"Many studies show that as many as three in four fatalities involving cars and trucks are unintentionally initiated or caused by the driver of the car," said Sean McNally, press secretary for ATA, in an email to RTV6. "Trailers have a significant – as much as 10 years – lifespan, so new regulations would likely take some time to have an impact. In the meantime, we continue to believe the best underride guard in the world cannot prevent a crash and we should focus on preventing crashes as a first step to real safety improvements."
 

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