Crashes spur call for side guards

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Mary Esch As­so­ci­ated Press file

ALBANY, N.Y.» Fifty years af­ter ac­tress Jayne Mans­field died in a Buick that slammed un­der­neath a trac­tor-trailer, auto safety ad­vo­cates say reg­u­la­tions in­spired by that grue­some crash need up­dat­ing to pre­vent hun­dreds of sim­i­lar deaths an­nu­ally.

“We’re ask­ing Congress to pass a bill that would man­date com­pre­hen­sive un­der­ride pro­tec­tion, not only on trac­tor-trail­ers but on sin­gle-unit trucks,” such as dump trucks, said Mar­i­anne Karth, who lost teenage daugh­ters An­naLeah and Mary when her Crown Vic­to­ria crashed be­neath a trac­tor-trailer in Ge­or­gia in 2013.

Af­ter two cars skid­ded un­der a jack­knifed milk tanker truck in north­ern New York on July 6, killing four peo­ple, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer called on fed­eral reg­u­la­tors to or­der big trucks to be equipped with side guards that would pre­vent cars from slid­ing be­neath them in a crash.

“The dev­as­ta­tion of crashes like th­ese — a re­sult of a gap in truck safety stan­dards — could be re­duced,” Schumer said.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­sur­ance In­sti­tute for High­way Safety, 301 of the 1,542 car oc­cu­pants killed in col­li­sions with a trac­tor-trailer in 2015 died when their ve­hi­cle struck the side of the rig. An ad­di­tional 292 died when their ve­hi­cle struck the rear. The in­sti­tute’s re­searchers es­ti­mate that half the fa­tal crashes be­tween large trucks and pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles in­volve un­der­ride, which makes air bags and other crash pro­tec­tion in­ef­fec­tive be­cause the top half of the car is sheared off.

Ac­cord­ing to reg­u­la­tions en­acted fol­low­ing Mans­field’s death, big rigs are re­quired to have rear un­der­ride guards to keep cars from trav­el­ing be­neath the back of a trailer in a col­li­sion. Known as “Mans­field bars,” they con­sist of two ver­ti­cal steel bars sup­port­ing a hor­i­zon­tal bar less than 2 feet from the ground.

Side guards aren’t re­quired by fed­eral reg­u­la­tions, but at least three cities — Bos­ton, New York and Seat­tle — man­date them on city-owned trucks to elim­i­nate deaths and in­juries, par­tic­u­larly among pedes­tri­ans and bi­cy­clists.

The In­sur­ance In­sti­tute for High­way Safety says side guards could pre­vent hun­dreds of deaths per year in the U.S. This spring, the in­sti­tute crashed a car into a trailer equipped with a side guard called An­gelWing, a steel rail cov­ered with fiber­glass. The car’s front end crum­pled, but the test dummy was pro­tected by the air bags and seat belt.

Karth and Lois Durso, whose 26-year-old daugh­ter, Roya, died in a side un­der­ride crash in In­di­ana in 2004, have been work­ing to­gether to lobby Congress and the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion for a side guard re­quire­ment as well as stronger rear guards. Their pro­posed leg­is­la­tion has no spon­sor yet.

“They talked about side un­der­ride pro­tec­tion in 1969, but no­body has pur­sued it re­lent­lessly,” Karth said. “I wish some­body would have done it so maybe our daugh­ters would still be here.”

Be­fore it is­sued its last set of reg­u­la­tions for rear-im­pact guards in 1996, the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion said it had de­ter­mined that side­un­der­ride coun­ter­mea­sures were not cost-ef­fec­tive.

The truck­ing in­dus­try sup­ports other ef­forts to avoid crashes, such as au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing and col­li­sion warn­ing sys­tems, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tions.

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