Crashes spur call for side guards
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.