Sharing the road with tractor-trailers and big rigs is intimidating, to say the least. You probably don’t need to hear reports of fatal crashes involving commercial vehicles in Texas to appreciate the damage that can occur in a collision with one. While you may be most familiar with crashes related to the cab of a truck, many deadly accidents involve the truck’s trailer.

Among the most deadly and horrific types of accidents are underrides. These occur when a smaller vehicle strikes the side or back of a truck’s trailer and continues under the vehicle. These accidents are almost always fatal unless the trucking company places safeguards on the sides and backs of their vehicles.

What is an underride accident?

Even at a slow rate of speed, an underride collision can be catastrophic. This is because the lower edge of a trailer is typically higher than the hood of a car or pickup truck. When a car approaches the side or rear of a truck, it will proceed under the trailer as the trailer crashes through the windshield and into the passenger compartment of the car. These accidents often result in massive head trauma, spinal cord damage and crushing injuries. Airbags and seatbelts provide no protection.

Side collisions may occur when a truck is slowly crossing a travel lane, especially at night, such as making a U-turn or backing into a parking lot. Rear collisions happen when a truck is struggling to gain speed on an incline or comes to a stop in a lane. Safety data also reports numerous side underride accidents that occur when a smaller vehicle loses control and underrides a fast-moving tractor-trailer, which may not be able to stop before the car is crushed under the wheels of the truck.

Preventing underride tragedies

Until advanced collision avoidance technology exists, the most effective protection against underride accidents is the installation of steel underride guards on the sides and backs of tractor-trailers. These guards strike the front of the smaller vehicle first, allowing it to absorb the impact without traveling under the truck. Some trucks already have fiberglass wings, but these are more aerodynamic and are not structured to withstand the force of impact, even at 35 mph.

Laws require trucks to have rear guards, but the standards for these are outdated, and those bars often fail. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration and many insurance groups have implored Congress for years to pass legislation to prevent underride accidents, but so far, no laws are on the books regarding this issue.