Tractor-trailers are required to have a rear safety guard to prevent cars, pedestrians, and cyclists from going under the truck in the event of a crash. But, there’s no federal law requiring a side guard, as seen on this truck, so some cities are passing their own laws.

Could side guards on large trucks prevent traffic fatalities?

When a large truck is in a crash with another vehicle and the other vehicle slides underneath the truck, it’s called a side underride collision. According to crash forensic experts, this type of collision rarely ends well for those in the other vehicle. Once a car ends up under a truck, vehicle safety features are rendered useless, and the top of the vehicle can be sheared off, killing the occupants.

The National Transportation Safety Board conducted a study on crashes involving single-unit trucks that resulted in injuries and deaths. There are 8.22 million single-unit trucks registered in the United States. They travel more than 110 billion miles per year on our nation’s roads and highways. Although single-unit trucks make up only 3 percent of registered motor vehicles in the U.S., they’re involved in 9 percent of fatalities among passenger vehicle occupants in multivehicle crashes.

Can something be done to prevent side underride accidents?

Ever Hear of a Mansfield Bar?

Many of you reading this may be too young to remember one of the leading sex symbols and film actresses of the 1950s and 60s, Jayne Mansfield. In the early hours of June 29, 1967, Mansfield was riding in a car that left Biloxi, Mississippi, headed for New Orleans, Louisiana. About 30 miles outside of New Orleans, Mansfield was killed instantly when the car she was riding in slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer truck.

Shortly after that truck accident, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended that trucks have a rear underride guard, also known as the Mansfield Bar. Since then, standards for the bars have been revised, and the NHTSA is still mulling the issue and is considering a rule change that would require more robust rear impact guards on trailers and semitrailers.

But so far there are no rules mandating side guards on tractor-trailers, even though there has been talk of requiring newly built tractor-trailers to be outfitted with side underride protection.

Some States Are Leading the Way

Even though there is no federal side guard law, some cities are taking the lead to reduce injuries and fatalities. In 2014, the Boston City Council voted unanimously to pass a Truck Side Guard Ordinance mandating that all large city-contracted trucks be equipped with the side guards to prevent fatalities, not only to occupants in cars, but to pedestrians and cyclists. Boston referred to statistics from the United Kingdom, which has laws mandating side guards, that showed the guards on large trucks reduced deaths 61 percent.

New York City has also passed a version of the side guard law. In 2015, Mayor de Blasio signed the bill, which requires side guards on all the city’s large trucks and on private garbage trucks that operate in the city. These side guards must be installed by 2024. In New York, trucks make up 3.6 percent of vehicles that traverse city streets, yet according to U.S. Department of Transportation, they are involved in nearly 13 percent of pedestrian fatalities and 32 percent of bicyclist deaths. According to Mayor de Blasio, “This bill takes this effort to the next level to ensure that all city-owned trucks and commercial garbage trucks are outfitted.”

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