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Is truck technology enough to prevent underride deaths?

If a tractor trailer jackknifes and swings around in front of you suddenly on a Virginia roadway, slamming on your brakes may not keep you from hitting the side of it. According to the Commercial Carrier Journal, in a midsize sedan going 35 mph or faster, you will slide under the trailer at any point except the areas blocked by the hitch or wheels.

As much as 72 percent of the side is exposed to this type of accident. In crash tests, the tops of cars are sheered away by the force, typically resulting in decapitation of passengers in both front and back seats. In 2015, 301 people died in side-impact crashes with semitrucks. Industry leaders from the American Trucking Associations have stated that their safety initiatives address all semitruck crashes through the promotion of technology such as forward collision warning systems and automatic braking. However, new tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that more could be done to save your life in the event of a collision with the side of a tractor-trailer.

Side underride guards are stiff panels on the bottoms of tractor-trailers. They catch the nose of your vehicle before it slides under, and the collision engages the crumple zones and airbags of your car so that the accident does no more damage than a typical head-on crash. While it could still result in severe injuries, you and your passengers are less likely to be killed.

The ATA does not agree that this safety feature is necessary, or even a good idea. There is still 38 percent of the trailer’s side exposed to you in a crash. Also, the organization claims that the weight of the guards could cause structural problems with the tractor trailer that lead to greater wear and tear. However, after assessing performance in crash tests, the IIHS believes that, like the rear underride guards on trailers, side underride guards would save many lives.

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