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Deadly truck crash spurs bill requiring side guards

An auto wreck that claimed the lives of four people could change safety standards in the trucking industry. The accident, which saw two cars slide underneath a jackknifed milk tanker, caught the attention of federal lawmakers.

On Dec. 12, two senators introduced the Stop Underrides Act of 2017. The proposed bill would require that guards be placed on the front and sides of all trucks, a measure aimed at preventing cars from sliding underneath the rear wheels when a collision occurs.

A fatal design flaw

According to federal statistics, more than 200 people are killed every year in underride crashes. The suggested guards could potentially lower that figure.

Side guards work by covering the exposed space beneath tractor-trailers. Forming a barrier, block other vehicles from slipping underneath during a collision. The National Transportation Safety Board has advocated for side guards in the past, concluding that they would reduce injuries and deaths in road accidents.

A fight that’s lasted decades

While the crash drew the attention of lawmakers, the battle for protection systems on trucks has been going on for quite some time. The 1967 death of actress Jayne Mansfield was an early catalyst for calls to increase safety standards. Mansfield struck the back of a tractor-trailer on a Louisiana highway and died in the collision, bringing public awareness to the issue.

It wasn’t until 1998, however, that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration required rear guards on trailers. Known as “Mansfield bars,” these protections are still mandatory, but side guards remain optional.

The potential effects of the bill

If the bill passes, it could usher in a new era for trucking safety standards, but not everyone is on board. The Truck Trailers Manufacturers Association, a lobbying group for the trucking industry, has long opposed compulsory side guards, citing their cost and technical installation issues. This historical pushback suggests that the bill’s passage could be an uphill battle.

It will be interesting to watch the progress of the Stop Underrides Act of 2017, as well as its lasting safety effects should it pass.

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