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Could safety devices on tractor-trailers prevent fatal crashes?

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Accidents with tractor-trailers often result in horrific outcomes. This is not surprising due to the size of semi-trucks compared to automobiles. One type of tractor-trailer accident that almost always results in fatalities or catastrophic injuries: when an automobile crashes into the side of a trailer and slides underneath.

Decapitation and other fatal injuries are common due to the top of the automobile being sheared off when crashing underneath the side of a trailer. Even though you may not hear about these crashes too often, they happen more than you think. From 1994 to 2014, 5,081 people were killed in 'under ride' accidents with semi-trucks, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine said in 2013 that fatal accidents from side crashes with semi-trucks are "likely three times higher than data collected by FARS" due to their reports not distinguishing between crashing into the rear and side of trailer.

Current safety regulations may not protect motorists

Why aren't federal agencies doing more to protect motorists? Current regulations only require tractor-trailers in the U.S. to have guards installed on the back of their trailers to prevent vehicles from sliding underneath the trailer in a rear-end collision. However, no current regulation requires side guards on trailers, making it difficult to prevent serious and fatal injuries in these types of accidents.

The National Transportation Safety Board previously issued a recommendation to have side guard rails on tractor-trailers. They reported that these side guard rails would prevent fatalities and reduce injuries in crashes. Unfortunately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not required side guards and Congress has not yet issued any mandates requiring this potentially life-saving device.

Are current side light requirements good enough?

While regulations are lacking for side crashes with trailers, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration does have specific lighting requirements for trailers. All trailers are required to have a pair of red brake lights and taillights to indicate the width of the trailer. Trailers are also required to include side lights. Below is a list of the requirements:

  • Side lights are required on both sides of trailer in the same location
  • Rear red side lights are required and should be as far back as possible
  • Yellow front side lights are required and should be as close to the front of the trailer as possible
  • Trailers over 30 feet long are required to have intermediate side lights

Safety groups say the lighting requirements for the side of trailers may not help motorists see tractor-trailers at night. Combined with the lack of safety devices to prevent a vehicle from sliding underneath the side of a trailer, motorists face serious risks when driving near these big rigs.

Tips for drivers

The insufficient safety regulations are putting drivers at risk. Motorists should be aware of the dangers of crashing into a big rig, even if they are travelling at moderately slow speeds. Semi-trucks are a common sight on the freeway, especially at night. This poses extra risks for motorists.

It is important for motorists to drive defensively at all times, but especially when you are driving near semi-trucks. What can you do to stay safe since current regulations do not provide enough protection? Here are some tips:

  • Watch out for big rigs on the freeway and on all roads
  • Look for lights on the side of a trailer
  • Be cautious when driving near semi-trucks, even when you are travelling at a slower speed

When to contact an attorney

Victims of truck accidents and their families have rights. Catastrophic injuries or a family member's death can significantly impact your finances. Medical bills, long-term care and loss of financial earnings are all factors that should be considered before signing any settlement with an insurance company.

In some cases, after an accident that results in serious injury or death, victims and families may be able to pursue a claim against the trucking company. An attorney should be consulted to discuss the specifics of the case and what steps victims or families can take after a serious crash.

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