27 Investigates: Truck underride guards

Anyone traveling on the interstate has likely seen a passing truck’s underride guard and didn’t give it a second thought.

This metal bar is supposed to save a driver’s life in certain types of wrecks by stopping cars that are lower to the ground from smashing under the back of a semi-trailer.

But 250 people die from from this type of crash every year in the United States, perhaps because the essential safety feature hasn’t kept up with the times.

To make underride accidents survivable, trucks are required by law to have underride guards, also known as ICC bars. Regulations were last changed in 1998, making the bars lower and longer.

Car designs have continued to change, but the underride guards have stayed the same.

State police describe what happens when an underride guard fails.

“That vehicle goes underneath that impact guard and underneath the rear axles and that’s when we have a serious problem,” said Lt. Marvin Hill of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Even though an underride guard has evidence of damage, it still meets federal safety standards. Some safety groups want to make those laws even tougher.

Videos from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show what happens when a newer model car crashes in to a semi trailer. Some underride guards can lessen the collision, but other accidents would have killed people in the car. The problem becomes worse when bars are damaged or in bad shape.

Investigative reporter Amanda Smith went out into some of the heaviest truck traffic in the area to see what kind of condition some of these underride guards are in. She found underride guards in many conditions on the road, including some that were bent, rusted and twisted, and some that had been cut off on the ends all together.

Damaged underride guards might not be able to work the way they were intended. The safety institute says that a few changes to design will make it easier to walk away from these accidents.

In our five-county area, authorities say people are injured or killed after rear-ending semis in about two dozen crashes every year. Still, local law enforcement officials say not to rely on the underride guards to save a life.

That ICC guard is really not going to protect you very much. It is a stationary object when struck and it’s going to cause severe damage to your vehicle or injury to you,” Hill said.

One fact from the studies that could save a life: It’s more likely motorists can stop safely if they hit the truck head on instead of trying to swerve to miss it.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said trailers designed to meet tougher Canadian standards for rear-end collisions are the some of the safest on the roads today. Leaders of the group have petitioned the government for stronger rules for American roads.

As of today, no changes to current regulations have been announced.

Click here for video of trailer underride bar crash tests.

 

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