Semitrailers carrying more than 10,000 pounds are required by law to have an underride guard on the back of their trailer in an effort to prevent cars from sliding underneath the truck in an accident. And while truck companies are up to standard on having these guards, an investigation into a fatal Tennessee truck accident found that these bars don't always hold up on impact.
The Tennessee accident happened in December 2011. It appears that the 50-year-old driver had attempted to avoid colliding with the back of a semitrailer, but ended up still crashing into the truck from an angle. On impact, the guard broke and bent, and the car ended up sliding under the truck. The driver sustained serious head injuries and later died.
Sadly, this Tennessee man is one of many who have passed away after crashing into the back of a semitrailer. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 300 people are killed every year after rear-ending a tractor-trailer.
In those crashes, while it's unknown how many involved an underride guard breaking or bending, in 2011 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety did conduct several crash tests to see how well the guards worked. In those tests, many times the guards would be pushed back by the impact, the car would slide under, and the head of the dummy and the trailer would collide.
Even in cases where the driver of the passenger car came at an angle -- like in the deadly December 2011 accident -- the guard did the same thing -- broke and bent.
Now, NHTSA claims to be in the process of an in-depth investigation looking into the issue of underguards, and trying to figure out what can be done differently to better protect drivers who are involved in accidents with semitrailers.