Imagine stopping next to a tractor-trailer in the middle of an intersection. It quickly becomes evident that the truck driver fails to notice you in the next lane because the he or she is in the process of making a wide turn. As the truck driver completes his turn, your worst fear comes true – the side of the tractor-trailer collides with your vehicle, and there was no way to move in time.
Fortunately for you, you survived the accident, although you may now be living with physical injuries and some emotional trauma. These types of tractor-trailer accidents, known as underride accidents, are unfortunately frequent. The Hayden Law Firm explains underride accidents in today’s blog, and what you should do if you’re injured in one.
What is an underride accident?
While all trucking accidents are dangerous, one of the deadliest trucking accidents involves the underride accident. The underride is an accident where the smaller vehicle collides into either the side or rear of a tractor-trailer and slides underneath the truck.
The passenger vehicle that collides with the tractor-trailer is at risk of losing its roof, and the driver and passengers are at risk of instantly losing their lives. Regardless of whether the passenger vehicle is traveling at a slower speed or not, underride accidents can be catastrophic.
How common are underride accidents?
It depends on who you ask. We have seen reports that say they happen in 25% of all truck accidents, and one that says 80-90%. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) says it’s 1%, but even they think that number is much, much too low:
From 2008 through 2017, an average of about 219 fatalities from underride crashes involving large trucks were reported annually, representing less than 1 percent of total traffic fatalities over that time frame. However, these fatalities are likely underreported due to variability in state and local data collection. For example, police officers responding to a crash do not use a standard definition of an underride crash and states’ crash report forms vary, with some not including a field for collecting underride data. Further, police officers receive limited information on how to identify and record underride crashes. As a result, NHTSA may not have accurate data to support efforts to reduce traffic fatalities.
What are the different types of underride accidents?
The two primary types of underride accidents are the side underride accident and the rear underride accident. The side underride accident usually happens when a truck driver is either in the process of crossing or turning on a street or attempting to make a U-turn. This type of underride accident is life-threatening for a passenger vehicle because a truck driver may fail to notice the car crossing their path.
The rear underride accident happens when a passenger vehicle collides right underneath the rear of a truck or tractor-trailer.
The GAO recognizes front underride accidents, too, but limits them to tractors.
What causes underride accidents?
One leading cause of underride crashes is driver ignorance: people think they have more time than they do to maneuver their vehicles. Motor vehicle drivers crossing an intersection may assume that the truck making a turn is moving faster than it is and that the car will clear the intersection or roadway in time. With rear underride accidents, motor vehicle drivers may assume that the truck or tractor-trailer is moving slower than it is and may end up tailgating the truck or tractor-trailer.
Time of day plays another role. The majority of underride accidents occur at night. This is because not only is truck visibility diminished during nighttime, but truckers could be traveling with poor markings on the truck or dirty and defective lights. The truck may be traveling at a slower speed, making the truck a hazard for a more extended period because it will take longer for the truck to cross the intersection.
Finally, weather conditions often affect the risk of an underride crash. Dangerous conditions like snowy or slippery roads can cause a truck, tractor-trailer, or motor vehicle to lose control and make it more likely for these types of accidents to occur.
Fatal and nonfatal injuries caused by underride accidents
A majority of underride accidents are fatal and result in immediate death upon collision. Even occupants who are fortunate to survive endure serious injury that will have lifelong effects on the victim(s). Some of the common injuries that occupants can experience from underride accidents involve bone fractures, loss of a body part/amputation, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and extreme disfigurement.
How to avoid underride accidents
Truck drivers can take preventive measures such as installing rear underride guards to the tractor-trailer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has mandated the required use of rear underride guards. However, rear guards are not as effective in low-speed traffic accidents. To add insult to injury, side guards are not required to be installed on the sides of a tractor-trailer. Updating the regulations for rear guards and side guards can help reduce the possibility of an underride accident.
When crossing an intersection or making a turn, truckers want to ensure that they are experienced enough to perform these maneuvers in the safest manner possible. In some cases, it is illegal for truckers to make a U-turn in two-lane roadways. Truck drivers want to avoid this by using parking lots to turn around. Truck drivers also want to engage in as little aggressive driving as possible. While cutting other motor vehicles off may seem satisfying, it can make the chances of an underride accident occurring greater.
One of the most important actions motor vehicle drivers can do when traveling around trucks or tractor-trailers is to avoid tailgating. Following too close behind a truck or tractor-trailer reduces the amount of time that the motor vehicle driver will have to stop safely in case a trucker suddenly stops. Motor vehicle drivers also want to be aware of a truck driver’s no-zones constantly.
These are the areas where a motor vehicle is practically invisible to the truck driver, and the truck driver does not notice the motor vehicle. This is known as a blind spot. The motor vehicle driver must also remain present while traveling on the roadway if the driver fails to notice the truck’s visibility due to either weather or nighttime conditions.
If you or a loved one are injured in a collision with a commercial truck, The Hayden Law Firm is here to take on your case. We work to secure fair and just financial compensation for your injuries and losses. Please call our offices at 314-480-3100 or fill out our contact form for a free, no-risk consultation. We proudly serve clients in St. Louis and throughout Missouri and Illinois.
Attorney Amanda L. Hayden has dedicated her legal career to fearlessly advocating for clients and their families after their lives have been devastated by the careless and/or reckless conduct of others.
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