How Dangerous are Underride Truck Accidents?

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Truck accidents are some of the most devastating and destructive accidents, owing to the massive size and weight of the average commercial truck compared with the average passenger vehicle. As devastating as these accidents can be, there are few truck accidents that are more horrifying and deadly than underride truck accidents. These occur when a smaller vehicle crashes into a truck with such force that it ends up sliding under the truck. This can cause the destruction of the vehicle, as well as tragic fatalities.

To prevent catastrophic underride accidents, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a proposed rule to add rear impact underride guards as a required item on the list of annual inspections.  Rear impact guards have been required since 1952, but they have not been included among the inspection items. That will change if the proposal becomes final.

According to the executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), the rule would require truck rear underride guards to be part of the commercial motor vehicle (CMV) inspector process. Currently, CVSA inspectors do not cite truck drivers if the truck’s rear guard is loose or damaged. If passed, CVSA inspectors will be required to inspect trucks more closely and ensure that the truck’s underride guards are securely fastened. The FMCSA said that the updated inspection requirements for rear impact guards will bring much-needed attention to the critical safety component and ensure that trucks are inspected at least once a year.

In addition, it will improve compliance and prevent the devastating injuries and fatalities associated with underride accidents. According to the FMCSA proposal, updating the inspection requirements to include rear impact guards and rear-end protection will ensure that the U.S. regulations are in step with those of Canada and Mexico, who already include these items in their annual inspection programs. Drivers and passengers who were involved in an accident involving a truck are encouraged to contact an experienced truck accident lawyer for assistance.

What are the Different Types of Underride Truck Accidents?

There are two main types of underride truck accidents, including side underride accidents and rear underride accidents. Both are equally devastating and can cause severe injuries and fatalities.

  • Side underride truck accidents: This type of accident occurs when a truck driver is crossing the street, turning onto a street, or making a U-turn. Other motorists may not see the truck as it crosses their path. The majority of these accidents occur at night when visibility is an issue. However, a low sun angle during the day can also make a large truck difficult to see. Other motorists may also assume that the truck is traveling at a faster speed than it is, and that it will clear the roadway or intersection in time.
  • Rear underride truck accidents: These occur when a vehicle crashes into the rear of a truck and ends up sliding underneath the truck. Oftentimes, these accidents occur at night when visibility is low, or if a poorly marked truck is parked on the side of the road. Inoperative, dirty, or dim taillights can also increase the risk of a rear underride accident.

What are Common Causes of Underride Accidents?

Transportation officials from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FMCSA have been trying to better understand some of the common causes of underride accidents and identify ways to prevent them. After conducting extensive research, they have identified the following causes:

  • Incorrect expectations: Motorists simply do not expect to see a large tractor-trailer that may be blocking the road ahead. Even defensive drivers who are focused on the road ahead may be caught off guard by a large truck turning or blocking the road and fail to react quickly enough to avoid hitting it. In addition, when a passenger vehicle is on a highway where the speed limit is anywhere from 55 mph to 75 mph, motorists do not expect to suddenly approach a large truck traveling at 10 mph. It can be difficult to accurately determine the distance and the driving speed, particularly at night.
  • Large silhouettes: Oftentimes, underride accidents occur at night when visibility is low. When streetlights are on, the massive trailer can blot out a swath of streetlights and blur the outline of the truck. This basically turns the trailer into a large black rectangle against the dark night sky, making it very difficult for oncoming traffic to see.
  • Ineffective reflectors: Large commercial trucks are equipped with reflective tape on the sides of the rig, which reflects the headlights of oncoming vehicles. In some cases, the reflectors are more distracting to other motorists than they are an effective warning. Some drivers may be confused when they see a spot of light appear. As a result, they end up focusing on the light, rather than the trailer that eventually comes into view.

Other factors can increase the risk of underride accidents as well, including the following:

  • A motorist who is tailgating a large truck.
  • Inclement weather, including rain, heavy fog, or snow, that prevents a driver from seeing a truck trailer.
  • A motorist who is speeding when approaching a large truck from behind.
  • Truck driver negligence, including making sudden stops.
  • The truck driver or truck company fails to use underride guards.
  • The truck driver does not properly maintain the truck, including underride guards, taillights, brakes, and reflective tape.
  • The truck driver fails to use the correct lighting.
  • The truck driver fails to follow the safety standards when parked on the road, including putting safety triangles on the road if the truck breaks down.

What Types of Injuries Do Underride Accidents Cause?

Underride truck accident victims who are lucky enough to survive such a devastating accident are likely to suffer very serious injuries. Some of these injuries can cause permanent disabilities that require life-long care. The following are examples of common underride truck accident injuries:

  • Broken bones
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Amputations or dismemberments
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Severe organ damage
  • Disfigurement
  • Other injuries that prevent the victims from doing daily activities

How Do Guardrails Prevent Underride Accidents?

Although underride accidents are devastating and often cause tragic fatalities, guardrails can significantly reduce the chances of an underride accident. Trucks that are equipped with rear guards and side guards can slow and redirect smaller vehicles that end up under the trailer in an underride accident. Guardrails are durable metal grates that are attached to the back and/or side of the truck where they hang below the tractor. They are effective at preventing vehicles from sliding underneath the truck in the event of an accident.

Underride truck accidents can be avoided if motorists keep the following safety tips in mind when sharing the road with a large commercial truck:

  • Be aware of a truck’s blind spots: Trucks have very large blind spots, also known as the No Zone, where the driver has limited to no visibility. The No Zone extends approximately one lane to the left of the truck, 20 feet in front of the truck, two lanes to the right, and 30 feet behind the truck. A general rule to follow is if a motorist cannot see the truck driver’s face in the side mirror, the truck driver probably cannot see the other driver.
  • Keep attention focused on the road: Sending or receiving a phone call or a text, reaching for something in the back seat, and changing the radio station are all distractions that take the driver’s attention off the road. When a motorist is driving near a large truck, one moment of distraction can have tragic consequences if the vehicle sideswipes or rear ends a truck. Motorists are urged to put their phones away and keep their attention focused on the road ahead at all times.
  • Practice defensive driving: This is important when driving in the vicinity of a large commercial truck. Motorists should always be aware of their surroundings and not assume that other drivers are going to follow the rules of the road. Drivers need to stay alert and be prepared to adjust the speed or apply the brakes quickly. Drivers should also plan a route that gets him or her safely away from a truck if it starts to swerve or merge too close to the vehicle.
  • Increase the following distance: Following too closely behind a large truck can be a recipe for disaster if the truck stops suddenly. Motorists should leave the length of two passenger vehicles between the car and the truck.
  • Accommodate other truck-related risks: In addition to having large blind spots, trucks require a significant amount of road space to slow down and come to a complete stop. In addition, they make very wide-angle turns and can cause jackknife accidents if the truck driver slams the brakes. Unsecured cargo can also fall off the truck and hit other vehicles in the road.

Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims of Underride Truck Accidents

If you were seriously injured in an underride truck accident, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We understand the devastation these accidents cause, and the debilitating injuries that occur. Oftentimes, these injuries cause permanent impairments that require long-term care. Our skilled legal team will assist you with every step of the claims process and ensure that you receive the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. We will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.