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Simple measures that could significantly reduce personal injury and wrongful death related to tractor-trailer truck accidents

To reduce personal injury and deaths related to tractor-trailer truck accidents the National Transportation Safety Board sent a letter last week to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urging the agency to take the following actions:

Address Blind Spots

Blind spots are a major cause of accidents between large trucks and other motor vehicles as well as more vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians. The rate of fatal accidents is particularly high among vulnerable road users. Research from the NTSB show that 16% of pedestrians and bicyclists involved in a truck accident will die. This ratio is of 12% for motorcyclists, 1% for passenger vehicle occupants and 0,2% for the tractor-trailer occupants.
Blind spots for large trucks are much bigger than blind spots for regular cars and exist in the front, in the back and on both sides of the truck. According to the study “Prioritizing Improvements to Truck Driver Vision” by Matthew P. Reed, Daniel Blower and Michael J. Flannagan from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute , the blind spot on the right of the cab of the truck is the most dangerous. During a lane change, most collisions with another motor vehicle happen in this spot. It is also the spot where most pedestrians and bicyclists are struck during start-up and right turn crashes.

Countermeasures to mitigate blind spots include enhanced mirror systems as well as more advanced technologies such as sensors to detect vehicles and vulnerable road users in blind spots.

Add side underride guards

15% of fatal accidents between a large truck and another vehicle are collisions with the side of the truck. When a car hits a large truck on the side there is a risk of underride collision. Previous studies have demonstrated that in underride crashes airbags often do not open properly. Adding to that during an underride collision there is a high risk of an impact in the windshield or other area above the hood which will compromise the car passengers’ safety cage. There is a high rate of fatalities and severe head injuries in these types of accidents.

In “Potential Benefits of Underride Guards in Large Truck Side Crashes.” Traffic Injury Prevention 13 (6): 592–99. doi: 10.1080/15389588.2012.6665952012, Mathhew L. Brumbelow estimated that 530 passenger vehicle occupants died each year during 2006–2008 in two-vehicle collisions between passenger vehicles and the sides of large trucks. Brumbelow estimated that 89% of serious or fatal injuries attributed to side impacts with semi-trailers could have been mitigated by side underride guards.

Previous studies in Europe and in the US have clearly demonstrated that side underride guards would contribute significantly to reduce the deaths and severe personal injuries related to side underride collision between large trucks and cars.

Improve rear underride guards

Every year more than 2000 cars collide with the rear of a tractor trailer in the US. These accidents are often fatal or result in severe personal injury. Several studies including crash tests done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have demonstrated that the actual rear underride guards mandated by the NHTSA are not effective in protecting passengers of motor vehicles from fatalities and catastrophic injuries during a collision with the rear end of a trailer. The underride guards requirement from the NHTSA have not been modified since 1998 and a petition requesting an upgrade submitted by the IIHS to the NHTSA in 2011 has not been adressed yet.

Improve trailer accidents data

Except for Florida, when a tractor trailer accident happens, the police are not required to add the trailer identification number to the police report. If this information was required at national level it would make it possible to evaluate the effects of trailers safety regulations and the safety of specific trailer designs.