New safety barriers for big-rig trucks could save lives

(Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

Stephen Edwards has been a trucker for 16 years. He’s hauling heavy pipe. He checks the straps to make sure the pipe doesn’t fall off and cause an accident. He also checks his tires. Safety is always on his mind.

“It’s hard to predict what you’re going to run into,” Edwards told ABC 33/40 News. “I try to be as safe as I can. I drive for myself and I drive for the others on the road.”

Avoiding accidents is always a top priority. But collisions between cars and trucks happen all too many times.

Deaths linked to side-impact collisions with trucks

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is a non-profit safety group funded by the insurance industry. Its analysis of federal data from 2015, found that more than 1,500 drivers and passengers of cars died in crashes with tractor-trailers. Nearly 20 percent of those deaths occurred when the vehicle hit the side of the truck.

Watch what happens to the crash test dummy

In the video at the top of this story, you’ll see two crash tests.

One crash test shows what happens when a car traveling 35 mph slams into the side of a big-rig truck. The side skirt you see is common on many 18-wheelers. It’s designed to improve aerodynamics. It doesn’t stop the car from going under the semitrailer.

“A 35 mph collision between a human’s head and the side of a truck is almost certainly fatal,” said David Zuby, executive vice president and chief research officer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Watch what happens when a protective side underride guard is installed. It stops the car from going underneath the trailer, during a 35 mph test.

“Likely in that particular crash test that we ran, the risk of serious injury would be fairly low,” said Zuby.

Out on the road, you’ll see that trucks don’t have protective side underride guards. That’s because there’s no federal law that requires them.

You’ll see many trucks with aerodynamic skirts that help improve gas mileage — but they can’t stop a car.

The truckers we spoke with like the idea of a protective side guard.

Steve Cox has been driving big-rig trucks for 11 years.

“Anything to save a life,” said Cox. “I mean if it keeps them out from under the vehicle, it would help save—save somebody from getting killed.”

Driver Glenn Stewart says the more protection, the better.

“If there’s a mechanism in place, that’s relatively inexpensive that can save lives, then sure, I think it’s absolutely something you should look into,” said Stewart.

Trucking industry: There are better ideas than protective side barriers

The American Trucking Associations says installing protective barriers on the sides of trucks isn’t the best solution. They say preventing crashes through new technology is a better idea.

Here’s a statement from the ATA: “Wider deployment of advanced vehicle safety technologies like automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning systems can help prevent all kinds of crashes, including those into the sides of trucks.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the protective side underride guards, which cost $3,000 to $4,500 per truck, aren’t the only solution to the problem — but they’re an option worth exploring.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off