Are Truck Underride Standards Failing to Protect Motorists in Arkansas?

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Arkansas, and especially northwest Arkansas, is home to heavy commercial vehicle traffic. Construction vehicles carry materials and equipment to work sites throughout the state and country. 18-wheelers and other large commercial vehicles haul consumer goods and products from distribution centers to retail stores and shops. Whether you’re driving on highway 72 or on  I-49 near Bentonville, on US 62 near Fayetteville or Rogers, or on US 71 near Bella Vista motorist must share the roadways with large commercial trucks.

Motorists and federal regulators have known about the risks of a smaller passenger vehicle striking a larger commercial truck from behind and riding under the larger vehicle’s increased clearance since at least the 1940s.  When the smaller passenger vehicle underrides the truck, catastrophic damage is often inflicted to the passenger compartment of the vehicle and its occupants. Catastrophic head and neck injuries, and unfortunately even decapitations, are not uncommon in underride accidents.

For more than 20 years, Fayetteville AR personal injury lawyer Ken Kieklak, has fought on behalf of those who have been seriously injured by commercial trucks. To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation call (479) 316-0438 today.

What Is the State of Underride Protection Standards in the US?

Underride protection standards were first established in the United States with the passage of the first underride protection standard in 1953.  While this standard was a good first step for the time, we now know that it does not adequately protect against known underride risks and dangers. Unfortunately the 1953 standard is still in effect for a number of commercial trucks on the roads.

Under the 1953 standard, both straight-trucks and truck trailers were covered. Covered trucks were required to come equipped with an underride guard that met certain standards set forth by federal regulators. Applicable 1953 standards include:

  • The distance from the truck bed to the ground cannot exceed 30 inches when the truck is fully unloaded and at its greatest height.
  • The guard must cover the entire back of the truck except for up to 18 inches at the vehicle’s sides.
  • Special purpose vehicles like pole trailers and pulpwood trailers were exempted from underride standards under this rule
  • Other vehicles with protective equipment that would provide a substantially similar protective effect were also exempted under this rule. Vehicles covered under this exemption include tow trucks

The standard did not contain any guidance regarding the strength or flex-strength of the guard.  The only requirement was that the guard had to be bolted on to the truck or welded onto the truck.

Following the tragic, grisly crash that took the life of 1950s celebrity Jayne Mansfield during the mid to late 1960s, there was a public impetus for strengthening the underride protection standards. However federal regulators would not update the standards until the late 1990s.

The new standards, FMVSS 223 and 224, became law in 1998. FMVSS 223 set forth standards to govern the installation of the underride guard. FMVSS 224 set forth standards regarding the testing standards to be used and the strength requirements for the guard. Heightened standards for the guard include:

  • A reduction in permissible guard height clearance. These heightened standards would reduce the permissible guard clearance height to 22 inches
  • Rear wheel guard side clearance was reduced. These standards were reduced from the previous limits down to 12 inches.
  • The cargo bay height standard was reduced. The permissible cargo bay height was reduced to 22 inches.

The 1998 standards apply to only trailers and semi-trailers that were produced after January 26, 1998. As previously stated, straight-trucks are still covered by the original 1953 standard that did not provide for strength or other performance requirements.

Guards Can Cause Severe Injuries When They Are Both Too Rigid and Too Weak

It is important to note that a guard that is too rigid can be just as dangerous as a guard that is too weak. A guard that is too weak will be unable to adequate absorb the forces present in the collision. Rather than absorbing the forces and slowing the passenger vehicle over time, the guard of inadequate strength will give way resulting in the vehicle barreling into the back of the truck. Severe head and neck injuries are likely.

By contrast, a guard that is too rigid can also cause serious safety problems. When a speeding passenger vehicle strikes the rear guard, the guard must be able to flex and absorb the forces over time. To better understand this principle, consider two speeding vehicles.  One crashes into a metal guardrail while the other crashes into a brick wall. The car that crashes into the brick wall will sustain much more severe damage because the brick wall is extremely rigid and it will not flex to spread out the force from the impact over time. By contrast, the metal guardrail has ample flex  incorporated into its design so the forces can be absorbed over an extended time period.  This typically results in perceptions of a less intense crash and reduced forces acting upon the vehicle.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, both safety problems are serious and deserving of attention, but the organization believes that overly rigid guards may be receiving attention that is disproportionate to the relative risk involved between the two threats. It is true that the term “decapitation bar” has a certain morbid characteristic that can appeal to our 24-hour new culture.  And perhaps it is the lingering cultural legacy of Jayne Mansfield and the inaccurate rumors that led many to believe that she had been decapitated due to her underride accident. In any case, IIHS believes that guards that do not provide adequate protective strength are a larger problem.

An Arkansas Truck Accident Lawyer Can Fight For You

If you have been injured in a Arkansas truck underride accident near Bentonville, Springdale, Rogers, Bella Vista, or throughout northwest Arkansas, truck accident lawyer Ken Kieklak can help. For more than 20 years we have fought for those seriously injured due to another person’s carelessness or recklessness. To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation call (479) 316-0438 today or contact us online.

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