Rely on

Louisiana’ premier
personal injury lawyer

Request Your Free Consultation

What are Underride Guards and do Commercial Trucks Need Them?

Posted in Truck Accidents on June 16, 2022

It was 1967, a late night in Biloxi, Mississippi. One of Hollywood’s original blonde bombshells, Jayne Mansfield, wrapped up her second performance of the day at the Gus Stevens Supper Club. The 34-year-old actress was due in New Orleans the next day, booked for WDSU’s Midday Show.

Mansfield tucked her three children—Miklós, Zoltán, and Mariska—into the backseat of her 1966 Buick Electra 225. She slid into the front seat beside her lawyer and boyfriend, Sam Brody. Behind the wheel was Mansfield’s 20-year-old driver Ronnie Harrison. Off they went into the dark morning of June 29, hoping to make it to the luxurious Roosevelt Hotel and get some sleep before sunrise. 

Out on U.S. Highway 90, it was almost 2:30 a.m. when the loaded-down Buick sped across the Rigolets Bridge. Just outside of the Crescent City, an 18-Wheeler puttered behind a truck spraying bug insecticide. The mosquito fog cloaked the rig as Harrison steered the Buick down the dark highway. 

The Buick slammed into the rig’s trailer. The car’s roof was sheared as it jammed under the truck. Mansfield, Brody, and Harrison were killed instantly. Mansfield’s children all survived, only sustaining minor injuries.

After the tragedy, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) felt the pressure to institute new safety requirements, and this measure saw the introduction of a horizontal metal bar acting as a bumper for the rear of the trailer and stretching its length to prevent a car from sliding underneath in a crash.

At the time, these steel tubes were commonly known as a “Mansfield Bar,” but they are actually called underride guards.   

Changes Take Time, Sometimes Too Much Time 

Despite the horrific results of the Mansfield accident and NHTSA’s response, the trucking industry did not adopt underride guards immediately. Trucking companies claimed that it was unfair to put all the burden and costs of increasing safety standards on them. The initiative stalled until a 1996 mandate required rear underride guards on tractor-trailers.

The small and often overlooked innovation has prevented innumerable deaths since then. But because the guards are not required on the sides of trailers, accidents and fatalities are still happening when semi-trucks and vehicles collide and cars plunge under the side of trailers.

In 2004, Lois Durso-Hawkins’ and her 26-year-old daughter Roya were on the road on the night before Thanksgiving. A crash occurred, and the car slid under a semi-tractor trailer on the passenger side. Roya was in that passenger seat and lost her life. It was an underride crash, but it was not reported as an underride accident.

In 2013, Jerry and Marianne Karth were involved in an underride collision. In the crash, their car was slammed into and forced under an 18-wheeler. Their two teenage daughters died in the accident.

The Karths teamed up with Durso-Hawkins to found Stop Underrides—an alliance of safety groups pushing to enhance protection innovations by lobbying Congress to pass the STOP Underrides Act. The legislation solidifies rear guard standards and requires side and front underride guards on new tractor-trailers and large trucks. This measure works to resolve the geometrical mismatch between big rigs and passenger vehicles. 

Statistics Push Change

The European Union has required rear and side underride guards on trucks since 2003. In the U.S. side, underride guides are still not mandatory. Even after all the numbers confirm that underride guides save lives.

The numbers started to come into focus in 2019 when the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report concerning the need to improve how data is collected, what possible vehicle inspections for underride guards may look like, and detailing the additional research that will be used to prevent under-reporting of underride crashes.

An underride collision can be the most dangerous and the most preventable. When the undercarriage of a tractor-trailer rips through a vehicle’s cabin, even a low-speed collision can be catastrophic.

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), crashes involving large trucks accounted for more than 4,000 fatalities in 2019. In 2020, the United States saw between 500 to 600 yearly deaths from rear and side underride collisions. That boils down to about 50 fatalities per month, an estimated two deaths per day. These numbers contribute to the more than 100 deaths occurring on U.S. roads every day. 

A Timeline of Underride Guard Legislation 

1996 – The NHSA requires the installation of underride guards to the rear of the trailer. on certain commercial trucks.

1998 – Mandatory requirements expand to include all commercial trucks weighing 10,000 pounds. These regulations put in place specific guidelines for the height, weight, and strength of the guards.

2017 – Congress introduces The Stop Underride Act in an effort to expand and strengthen the current legislation regarding underride guards on commercial trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds. These measures included: 

  • Testing and developing stronger underride guards to prevent vehicles from crashing beneath a truck’s undercarriage
  • Installing additional side and front underride guards and stronger rear underride guards on commercial trucks
  • Inspecting the underride guards periodically, and if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration determines that guards need to be repaired or replaced, the trucks are removed from service until maintenance is performed

2021The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is passed. A total investment of $1.2 trillion to ensure the national supply chain keeps moving. More than $7 million was allocated to the U.S. Department of Transportation. These funds were intended for various railroad improvement projects where freight will be off-loaded, transferred to trucks for hauling. Part of these funds were specifically designed to address underride crashes and the improvement of truck safety.

Going Forward

Since 2017, an estimated 95% of current trailers being manufactured are already meeting the height, weight, and strength requirements. It will take vigilance and oversight to continue to move in the right direction.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has made four recommendations for the Department of Transportation (DOT). GAO recommends DOT:

  1. Solidifies a standard definition of underride crashes and determine its associated data fields
  2. Share information with police departments to identify and record underride crashes for reporting 
  3. Establish the requirements for annual inspections for rear underride guards
  4. Conduct more research regarding side underride guards

Both departments believe these recommendations will help clarify the guidelines and requirements set to oversee underride crashes and the guards made to prevent the injuries and the fatalities common in these collisions.