Truck Safety Coalition tackles underride issue on Capitol Hill

Group pushing Congress to make trucks safer

INDIANAPOLIS - Truck safety advocates are pushing for a national change following a Call 6 Investigation into a deadly danger on Indiana highways.

Underride guards, the metal bumpers required on the backs of most large trucks, are supposed to stop cars from sliding underneath the back of tractor-trailers and minimize injuries, but the Truck Safety Coalition argues the federal standards are not strong enough.
          
The coalition, along with crash victims and their families, is on Capitol Hill this week pushing federal transportation officials and members of Congress to make the guards safer for drivers.
          
"I don't want to see other people killed the way my dad was killed," said Jennifer Tierney, who lost her father 30 years ago when he crashed into the side of a truck that was backing into a driveway.
           
"My dad came around the curve and went through the side of the trailer and he went all the way under it and came out 41 feet on the other side," said Tierney. "He died 20 minutes later of massive head injuries. It's an incredibly violent way to die."
           
Side impact guards are still not required in the United States, 30 years after Tierney's father's death.
           
"It's just so upsetting to think this is an issue our federal government has known about long before my dad was killed, and 30 years later, they still haven't solved the issue," said Tierney. "Other countries are finding solutions to this issue."
           
The Truck Safety Coalition argues hundreds of people are killed in the United States every year due to a lack of side guards and inadequate rear underride guards on trucks.
           
Roy Crawford lost his 16-year-old son in 1994.
           
"The truck he ran into had absolutely no underride guard at all, and he was almost decapitated," said Crawford.
           
Although rear underride guards are now required on the back of most large trucks, the Truck Safety Coalition argues federal rules don't make them strong enough to prevent deaths and serious injuries, even at low speeds.
           
"I'd like to see the underride guard standards improved," said Crawford. "They need to be energy absorbing; they need to be wider, lower and stronger."
           
Joan Claybrook, Chair of CRASH -- Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways -- hopes to catch the attention of the new U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary.
          
"When you hear the real life, on-the-road stories, you understand these things make a difference and these rules count," said Claybrook "(These rules) save lives and injuries."
           
The Truck Safety Coalition and crash victims' families are meeting with members of Congress in the hopes that a member will draft legislation aimed at underride guards.
           
A spokesperson with the American Trucking Associations told RTV6 in nearly three-quarters of crashes where a car hits the rear of a tractor-trailer, the car initiated the collision.
           
"We believe the best way to reduce these crashes is through continuing education about how to safely share the road with large trucks and by more vigilant enforcement of traffic laws on our highways," wrote Sean McNally, Press Secretary for ATA, in an email to RTV6. "We're encouraged by the results of the most recent IIHS study that showed tremendous improvement in the performance of the current generation of trailer underride guards. This equipment is an important safety feature, but ultimately, we believe the best underride guard is the one that's never put to the test on the highways."

Experts RTV6 spoke with said underride crashes aren't necessarily the result of distracted driving such as texting, eating or talking on the phone.

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.

"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.

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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