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Guard rails on commercial trucks unsafe in rear-end collisions

Many drivers in Colorado try to steer clear of big commercial trucks on the road and for good reason. Commercial trucks are commonly associated with fatal accidents on the highway and a new study shows why these big trucks remain so dangerous.

Tractor trailers are still lacking safe underride guard devices to keep vehicles safe during rear-end collisions, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The study found that current underride guards on commercial trucks do not prevent fatalities in commercial truck accidents that involve a vehicle rear-ending the truck at speeds as low as 35 mph.

All 18-wheel tractor trailers are required to have underride guards that are the same width as the trailer to prevent cars from crashing underneath the trailer, which in most cases result in fatalities and serious injuries for the vehicle occupants. Even though underride guards are supposed to increase safety, many of the guards failed to prevent a fatal accident in safety tests done by the IIHS.

The IIHS said that during rear-end collisions with commercial trucks, many vehicles still went under the trailer. When this happens, the front of the vehicle is crumpled and the airbags are not able to help protect the driver and passengers in the vehicle.

The safety test by the IIHS found that all of the trailers tested passed the full-width for rear-end crashes at 35 mph. When vehicles rear-ended 30 percent of the back of the trailer, seven out the eight trucks tested failed compared to only one truck failing when vehicles rear-ended 50 percent of the back of the trailer.

The IIHS reported that tractor trailers underride guards remain dangerous because many trucks have support posts in the middle of the back of truck, making the ends of the guard weaker and explains why many vehicles still drove under the truck when they hit one side of the truck instead of in the middle. The IIHS said that the safety tests show very severe damage to the dummy's neck and head that would have killed real drivers in this type of accident.

After the study's findings, the IIHS said that they hope the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration proposes stricter regulations for commercial truck manufacturers, specifically stronger requirements for underride guards that will prevent fatal rear-end collisions.

Source: MSN Autos, "Study: Big-rig safety bars fail to prevent deaths, even at low speeds," Clifford Atiyeh, March 14, 2013

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