When you see a semi-truck, you will often notice that you’re able to see other vehicles passing by as you look underneath it. In some rare instances in which you can’t, that’s because the view is obstructed by protection devices called truck guards or skirts.
You may have readily realized the purpose of these truck skirts or guards. They’re certainly not there for aesthetic reasons, but instead, because they have the potential of saving lives. The following information will detail how big of a problem underride incidents are, the difference between truck guards and skirts, and why they are so critical to saving lives.
How Truck Guards and Skirts Differ
Truck skirts are generally formulated from plastic, fiberglass, aluminum, or other flexible materials and are affixed to the side panels of the undercarriage of a truck. While they can contribute to improved fuel economy, they’re instrumental in reducing underride accidents.
As for truck guards, they are the steel bars installed on the rear portion of trucks. They generally hang down approximately 12-18 inches from the bottom of the trailer bed, which also happens to be the same distance that they hover above the roadway. Truck guards can be instrumental in keeping passenger cars from under-riding the rear portion of a tractor-trailer.
What Are Truck Underride Accidents?
There are two types of underride incidents, side impact accidents and rear impact collisions.
You might have seen scenes in action films where a motorist driving a low-profile vehicle (such as a sports car) drives under a tractor-trailer to evade a pursuer and comes out on the other side and keeps going on their way. This isn’t real life, but likely a computer-generated, made-for-television moment that took filmmakers using special effects to pull off.
In real life, any number of situations may result in a side underride incident whereby a motorist’s vehicle becomes lodged under a tractor-trailer in between its front and rear axles. Some instances in which these accidents most often occur include when:
- Motorists (either the trucker or passenger car operator) fail to abide by traffic signals or signs at an intersection
- A trucker fails to ensure that the coast is clear when passing a driver, causing their vehicle to slide under the side of the truck
In most cases, a car that gets stuck under the truck can’t become easily unstuck, given how its roof becomes crushed and molded to the trailer’s undercarriage when such an incident occurs.
Also, while some tractor-trailers may notice when an incident like this occurs as they might feel the impact, some truckers may only realize what has occurred after feeling a shift in the operability of their vehicle over time. Other tractor-trailer operators may need someone to call their attention to what has occurred to get them to stop.
While side underride accidents are certainly dangerous, rear underride incidents can also be.
A trailer often overhangs the bed it rests on. The rear axle is thus indented a bit under the trailer bed. It’s not uncommon for either tailgating motorists or truckers who engage in erratic braking to become entangled in a crash. While collisions of this sort will often involve mere contact, some go a bit further.
Situations in which rear underride accidents are most likely are when a trucker unexpectedly slams on their brakes, especially in high-speed zones, like interstates. The key here is the force of the impact. The speed with which the accident occurs often dictates whether a truck becomes lodged under the truck’s trailer and behind its rear axle.
Rear axles are generally positioned between 8-10 feet inward from the end of the trailer. Most passenger cars only measure between 12-18 feet. Given these dimensions, as you might imagine, a crash involving a certain amount of force may cause a significant portion of a passenger vehicle to become trapped underneath a truck.
Much like a side underride incident, it may be unlikely for a motorist to break free from being stuck. A trucker who doesn’t realize what has occurred may drag a vehicle for a significant time, causing a motorist more significant injuries or their life.
Injuries That Result from Underride Accidents
Underride accidents, more often than not, result in devastating injuries and loss of life. Motorists who survive the initial impact don’t often make it, especially if their vehicle is dragged. This tends to cause the car to become further wedged under the trailer bed. The addition of the truck’s speed as this is occurring only causes further destruction to vehicles and motorists.
The handful of car occupants who survive underride incidents often must be cut out of their vehicles and life-flighted for immediate critical care. Emergency room (ER) doctors who triage them often have to make quick decisions to save their lives after they’ve suffered:
- Compression injuries
- Internal organ damage
- Head injuries
- Large lacerations, leaving behind gaping wounds prone to infection
- Spinal cord injuries
Many of the life-saving measures doctors must take after a patient arrives in their ER following an underride crash results in patients:
- Becoming paralyzed
- Being diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury
- Undergoing amputations
- Having internal organs removed or left significantly impaired
Some underride accident victims even end up with a combination of these different injuries, leading them to live a much different post-accident life than they did before.
What Is Being Done to Reduce Underride Crash Rates?
Most fleet companies and tractor-trailer owner-operators have been required to install rear underride guards since 1952. It wasn’t until 2020 that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) agreed to add checking the integrity of rear underride guards on its annual inspection list, though.
Federal legislation has called for mandatory side underride guards introduced countless times over the past few years, but it has failed to garner majority approval each time.
How Truck Accident Attorneys Help Following Underride Accidents
Ask any personal injury attorney, and they’ll tell you that truck accidents are a unique type of case to handle. What makes them so different from car crashes?
There are often many potential plaintiffs to pursue in truck accident cases. There’s a fleet company, owner-operator, and manufacturers for starters. Third-party mechanics, negligent inspectors, and others may also be held liable when things go awry.
Then there are regulations set by state and federal officials. From taking necessary rest breaks to installing underride guards, there are regulations pertaining to every aspect of truck operations. There are penalties for violating these regulations. Records of these violations may be used to prove negligence in a personal injury case.
The two descriptions of how car accident and truck accident cases unfold are only two examples of the differences between the two. A truck accident attorney can go over other ways in which tractor-trailer-involved crash cases are different from car ones. This knowledge will ensure that you receive just compensation for your losses in your case.
Contact our attorneys at Shrager & Sachs today for a complimentary case evaluation. They can advise you of your rights and what avenues you might want to pursue in handling your Philadelphia case.