A report issued last March by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that underride guards on the backs of large trucks frequently fail to prevent a passenger vehicle from sliding under a truck during a collision.
“Hitting the back of a large truck is a game changer,” IIHS President Adrian Lund wrote in the report. “You might be riding in a vehicle that earns top marks in frontal crash tests, but if the truck’s underride guard fails—or isn’t there at all—your chances of walking away from even a relatively low-speed crash aren’t good.”
The organization performed six crash tests involving three rear guards that complied with U.S. safety regulations and were attached to parked semi-trailers. In three of the tests, the car slid under the truck enough that the dummy’s head was hit, indicating that decapitation would likely occur in a rear-world crash.
The strongest guard prevented underride when the car struck the truck’s rear head-on and at a slight angle. In every other test in which the car struck the truck at an angle, all of the guards allowed underride.
During the life of a truck, the guards beccome damaged over time. Trucking companies refuse to replace the guards because stronger systems would create a slight increase in weight, which would raise the companies’ fuel costs.
In its rulemaking and research priority plan released last month, NHTSA acknowledged that truck underride is the third largest cause of fatalities in frontal collisions and said it “will assess research data and decide on the next steps” by 2012.
There is no person in this country whose life is not in some way affected by the interstate system. From work commutes to the fruits and vegetables found in every grocery store, the interstate is vital for our way of life. Just about everyone has driven the interstate next to those huge semis and other large commercial trucks. This means that absolutely everyone of us is at risk.According to the most recent safety study, the Associated Press claims that “Hundred of thousands of drivers carry commercial licenses even though they qualify for full federal disability payments”. If one wished to look through the Transportation Department’s data from 2006 (the latest available) truckers have been caught violating federal medical rules in every state. Not only that, but a federal safety study from last year concluded that physically impaired truckers were a leading cause of serious crashes.Scare tactics are not necessary here. We have all imagined that huge behemoth of the roadways veering into our traffic lane. We have seen the wrecks in the deep medians of the highway. And while sleep deprivation has been identified as a threat to our safety and our lives, this news of disabled drivers at the wheel is exactly that: News.The AP study found that 563,000 commercial drivers are eligible for full disability benefits because of health problems. This has come from the Labor Department, Social Security, and yes, the Veterans Affairs Department.Now, qualifying for disability benefits doesn’t automatically make one incapable of driving. There is nothing wrong with men and women trying to earn a living after being disabled by age, accident, or war. In fact, it is commendable. But when over a thousand truckers have vision, hearing, or seizure disorders which should prevent them from obtaining a commercial license, one has to wonder what is going on.The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is given the task of regulating this crucial aspect of our daily lives, as befits their title. And yet, this agency acknowledges that they haven’t completed any of the eight recommendations proposed by the National Transportation Safety Board in 2001. Let me repeat that. In seven years, the agency whose only task is to prevent this kind of News hasn’t completed a single goal.
You might be wondering what these eight proposals are about, and how are they going to fix the problem. I will be examing these eight proposals over the next few days.
 Yen, Hope and Frank Bass, “Thousand of bus and truck drivers qualify for disability” Star-Telegram.com 22 Jul. 2008., Nation ed.