Safety advocates push for change in tractor-trailer underride guards

Bumpers meant to prevent cars from sliding under

INDIANAPOLIS - A Call 6 Investigation is prompting heated reaction and a push for change into dangerous underride guards on trucks.

The metal bumpers are supposed to stop cars from sliding underneath the back of tractor-trailers, and minimize injuries, but critics argue the federal standards are not strong enough.

Some are taking their push to the national’s capital.

The Truck Safety Coalition will hold a conference Saturday through Tuesday in Washington, D.C., during which they will address underride safety issues, and call on the federal government to adopt more stringent guidelines.

"Most of the bumper guards are inadequate," said Joe Badger, a former Indiana state trooper who is now a consultant for the Underride Network, a group pushing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for stronger standards. "They have developed some bumpers that are sturdy enough, but until the federal government mandates a more substantial bumper, they’re underriding them."

Underride guards are there to protect drivers and passengers involved in hitting the back on semis, no matter who is at fault. But in response to Monday’s investigation, some drivers believe if a driver crashes into the back of a truck, it must be as a result of distracted driving such as texting, eating or talking on the phone.

Experts RTV6 spoke with say that’s not the case.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety told RTV6 that people hit the back of a truck for many reasons, including if a truck stops suddenly or if a driver is going over a hill and can’t see that traffic is stopped.

Badger told RTV6 there’s a difference between "seeing" a truck and "perceiving" a truck.

"There's a tractor-trailer up ahead, and they can see it, but that semi is going inordinately slow," Badger said. "The driver doesn't perceive that change, and by the time they realize, they're too close, and they run into the back of it."

On Tuesday, IIHS released a statement to the Call 6 Investigators.

"Almost all crashes involve a driver making a mistake, but their mistake shouldn’t be a death sentence. We know there is a simple fix for preventing underride crashes, and that’s basically to have stronger guards," the statement read.

On Tuesday, the Indiana Motor Truck Association also expressed interest in the underride issue.

"We would certainly consider any changes recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and continue to focus on the prevention of all commercial motor accidents," Barry Miller, IMTA spokesman, wrote in an email to RTV6.

NHTSA told the Call 6 Investigators earlier this month that more stringent regulations could be on the way.
NHTSA released a study that evaluated both side and rear underride crashes and plans to use that information when making changes to federal guidelines.

"Moving forward, results from the field analysis, IIHS’s tests, international standards and other data will be leveraged by NHTSA and may inform potential changes to existing federal safety standards -- including more stringent rear-impact guard requirements -- based on what all the data show," David Strickland, NHTSA administrator, wrote in an email to the Call 6 Investigators. "NHTSA has research underway that would raise the bar on safety for large trucks -- such as the potential use of crash avoidance technologies, new measures to improve the crash safety of truck cabs, among other efforts."

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