The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says installing under-ride guards on the sides of tractor-trailers can help save lives. The IIHS is calling for a rule change to make guards mandatory on semis.
But the trucking industry says the better solution is to speed up the release of advanced safety technology.
The IIHS has been performing crash tests on mid-size vehicles traveling at 35 mph directly into the center of a 53-foot dry van. The tests show that semi-trailers equipped with side guards prevented roof-peeling crashes, one of the deadliest types of car accidents.
Under federal law, semis are required to have under-ride guards at the rear. Side guards are not mandatory nationwide. Major cities – like New York, Boston and Seattle – do have requirements for side guards on trucks owned or contracted by the city.
"Our tests and research show that side under-ride guards have the potential to save lives," said IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer David Zuby. "We think a mandate for side under-ride guards on large trucks has merit, especially as crash deaths continue to rise on our roads."
Roof-peeling crashes are often fatal. This type of collision killed Joshua D. Brown, who was involved in the high-profile crash involving Tesla's Model S. While driving in Autopilot mode, the vehicle failed to recognize the side of a tractor-trailer and collided with the vehicle. Mr. Brown was killed in the collision.
According to data from the IIHS in 2014, 301 of the 1,542 deaths caused by car and tractor-trailer collisions involved a vehicle hitting the side of a tractor-trailer. A total of 35,022 traffic-related deaths occurred that year.
The ATA (American Trucking Associations), a group that represents the trucking industry, said in a statement that focusing on crash prevention is the best way to prevent under-ride deaths.
ATA wrote in its statement: "Side under-ride crash protection has several complicating factors—engineering tradeoffs involving weight, strength, and effectiveness—that have prevented a consensus around adopting side under-ride guards."
The ATA argues that requiring under-side guards would add weight and "require stiffer trailers." The group says advanced safety measures, like collision warning systems and automatic emergency braking, would be more effective at preventing under-ride crashes.
The IIHS has been studying under-ride crashes for years. The group has also been rating and crash-testing under-ride guards on trailers since 2011. But this year marks the first year the IIHS has tested side collisions.
The group tested a fiberglass side skirt and a side guard from a well-known manufacturer. The fiberglass skirt had a dramatically different result compared to the side guard.
The skirt did little to provide protection, shearing the roof in a way that would have likely killed the passengers.
The side guard, on the other hand, did prevent the cars from going underneath the trailer. During the tests, the seatbelts and airbags also restrained the test dummy in the driver's seat.
The manufacturer of the side guard says its design also offers aerodynamic benefits that help save on fuel and lower costs.
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