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Why tractor-trailers need side underride guards

While many people are injured or killed because they rear-ended a tractor-trailer, or one rear-ended them, not every collision on the California roadways happens that way. In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Highway Loss Data Institute, during 2015, 301 passenger vehicle deaths occurred in a side-impact collision with a tractor-trailer, while 292 were killed in vehicles colliding with the back of the truck.

It is the law that a trailer must have a guard hanging down below the back end. These underride guards prevent a car from sliding underneath the trailer in a collision. In crash tests, these are expected to perform at speeds up to 35 mph. The IIHS has also tested guards that hang down below the sides of the trailers between the front and back wheels, and these have been proven to work in the same way.

Watching a crash test involving a mid-size sedan and a tractor-trailer immediately reveals the need for these safety features. Without the guard, the nose of the vehicle does not come into contact with the side of the trailer. Instead, the car continues to move forward, sliding underneath and becoming wedged there. The top of the car is flattened, and those in the front seats would in all likelihood be decapitated. Those in the back would also be at risk, depending on how fast the car is moving at the time of impact.

Forbes magazine reports that even though the rear underride guards are mandated, the standards for them have not been updated since 1998. There is currently no law requiring the side guards.

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