Industry doubts proposed big rig safety feature, but experts say would cut deaths

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — There’s a push underway to make tractor trailer trucks safer in case of a collision with an automobile.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says side guards on trucks could save countless lives and could protect you and your family.

For years the federal government has required so-called underride guards at the back of trailer trucks. Thee metal bars prevent a vehicle from sliding under a trailer truck during a rear-end collision.

But on the sides of trailers, there’s nothing.

CBS North Carolina measured the typical distance between the road and the bottom of a trailer. It’s about 42 inches — which just happens to match the height where most people sit in a vehicle. Thus, if a car crashes into the side of a trailer truck with enough speed, any passengers’ heads and necks could impact the trailer causing serious injury or death.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says in 2015 more than 300 people died from collisions in which vehicles went underneath a trailer.

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They conducted crash tests on trailer trucks with and without side guards. In a 35 mph crash they found the guards protected occupants.

“It prevented the car from going underneath and consequently the airbags and seatbelts were able to protect the driver dummy in those crash tests,” said David Zuby, who is the chief research officer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But the trucking industry has concerns about side guards. Industry representatives worry about the how much they would add to the cost of a truck as well as concerns their use might weaken the structural integrity of a trailer.

The Truck Trailer Manufacturers association also says side guards could dangerously increase the weight of a truck.

The Insurance Institute believes the side guards are life-savers, but it can’t quantify it.

“We can’t say for sure how many people will be saved, but if you prevented the car from going underneath the trailer, many more people would be alive,” says Zuby.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could order the trucking industry to add side guards, but hasn’t done so.

The Insurance Institute hopes its crash tests will persuade the industry to add the guards voluntarily.

Email CBS North Carolina’s Steve Sbraccia if you have a consumer issue.

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