Underride truck accidents often result in the death of car drivers until rear underride guards were mandated. Side underride accidents continue to result in many deaths. Semi-Trucks are required to have rear underride guards. The rear underride guard is the metal that extends from the rear of the trailer to match the height of a passenger car’s bumper. This is an inexpensive safety feature that was tragically brought into law after Jayne Mansfield, a blonde Hollywood actress was killed. She was a passenger in a car that slid under the rear of a semi-truck. She was killed instantly along with the other adults in the car. Her young children, including Mariska Hargitay, the star of Law and Order SVU survived with minor injuries. Ms. Hargitay still has a scar on her face from this crash. This tragic loss of life resulted in legislation mandating the use of rear underride guards. It is a tragedy that side-underride guards are not currently required. Advocates for trucking safety lament that it took the death of a Hollywood star in 1967 to lead to the 1998 rear underride guard mandate. The side underride guards are relatively inexpensive to install and efforts to require their use are currently being opposed by the trucking industry.
The most common underride accidents involve cars running into the back of slow-moving trucks, tractor trailers stopped on the side of the road, and tractor trailers are pulling onto a roadway from a stop. Tractor trailers are large and usually visible but at night visibility is often limited to lighting, reflective striping and warning devices such as cones or triangles.
Driver reaction and perception is a science that explains why these crashes occur. The total stopping time for a driver faced with a hazard is the total of:
● The time to perceive/recognize the hazard
● The time involved to decide the proper reaction
● The time to apply the brakes, plus
● The time and distance for the vehicle to stop.
Due to the specific lighting conditions and surrounding conditions before a nighttime underride crash the time it should have taken for a driver to recognize and perceive a hazard may be difficult to estimate. This portion of a driver’s reaction time involves detecting a light or a reflection and then identifying that light or reflection as something that requires evasive actions such as braking.
While side guards minimize serious injuries from underride accidents, they may hide low hanging lines or structural issues with the underside of the vehicle.
FLASHERS, WELL MAINTAINED REFLECTIVE TAPE AND WARNING DEVICES IMPROVE DETECTION OF ROADWAY HAZARDS.
Imagine a tractor with a long flatbed trailer stopped on the side of a highway at night. The driver decides to make a U-Turn traveling across multiple lanes of traffic. The tractor’s headlights are shining away from approaching traffic and the large flatbed trailer is at a significant angle during most of the U-turn. The reflective white and red safety tape is reflecting the light from approaching cars to the side of the road until the trailer is perpendicular to approaching traffic. An approaching car sees a couple of small lights that appear to be floating in the roadway, yet the flatbed trailer is so high that the taillights of a car a hundred yards past the trailer are still visible. The approaching motorist interprets this data as indicating that the next vehicle in his travel lane is a couple of hundred yards away and traveling at speed. As the motorist nears the truck the trailer becomes perpendicular. Now the motorist’s headlights hit the reflective striping and the light shines directly back to the driver. The driver is now too close to stop and the trailer is blocking all lanes of travel. The driver slams on his brakes crashing into the trailer. The top of the car is nearly sheared off by the impact.
An accident reconstruction team investigates the crash. Photographs taken in the day light show an enormous truck across a flat wide roadway with nothing obstructing the view of approaching traffic. The police conclude that driver inattention on the part of the car driver was the cause of the crash. Cases like this often require the retention of an accident reconstructionist and a conspicuity expert. A conspicuity expert can assess what a driver under the same circumstances on the night of the accident observed.
Dirt on red and white reflective tape reduces visibility by 50% for approaching traffic.
THE UNITED STATES DOES NOT HAVE ENOUGH TRUCK PARKING
Trucks Park on Roadway Shoulders Endangering the Public.
A common underride case occurs where a vehicle strikes a stopped truck on or near the roadway. This often results in a passenger becoming wedged under the rear bumper of the truck. The federal motor carrier safety regulations recognize that stopped trucks on the highway pose a danger to the driving public. The regulations applicable to motor carriers and commercial truck drivers are designed to prevent these crashes. A commercial truck driver is supposed to take the following steps when parking on a highway or shoulder:
2. As soon as possible but within 10 minutes place one traffic warning device (flare or fluorescent triangle) on the side of the traffic approximately 10 feet from the rear of the truck.
3. Then place a second traffic warning device about 100 feet from the rear of the truck in the center of the shoulder or travel lane where the truck is stopped.
4. A third warning device is to be placed away from traffic.
5. If the truck stopped where there are hills or other obstructions the safety devices are required to be placed further back to alert unsuspecting traffic.
6. Likewise, if a truck is stopped on the travel portion of a divided or one-way road the last of the three traffic warning devices needs to be placed 200 feet from the rear of the truck.
7. On windy roads, a driver should make sure that the last triangle can be seen prior to bends in the roadway that limit site distances.
A careful analysis of the location of the stopped truck and local laws is required to determine if the parking of the truck at the location was safe or legally permitted. The weather conditions at the time the truck was stopped must also be analyzed. A truck, if possible, should not stop on a shoulder of a highway when there is icy conditions or heavy fog.
Underride crashes produce devastating injuries and often fatalities. The people involved in these accidents are often unable to timely seek legal help. It is incumbent on their family members and loved ones to reach out to a truck accident lawyer before critical evidence has been lost or destroyed.
Patterson Law helps truck accident clients to recover. A Board-Certified Truck Accident Lawyer is available for your case! Your recovery is our focus.
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