Improved Truck Trailers Still Have Miles To Go in Safety

by Jana Ritter - Published: 3/14/2013

Heavy-duty truck trailers fall short in preventing gruesome head injuries that kill hundreds of car drivers each year in rear-end collisions, according to a safety group's study. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released their report today, stating seven of eight trailers failed a toughened crash test designed to simulate what happens when a car catches a trailer at a glancing blow. Both the U.S. and Canada require guards underneath trailers to prevent cars from sliding underneath them during a collision.


In 2011, 260 of 2,241 car passengers killed in large truck crashes died after the fronts of their vehicles struck the back of a trailer, the insurance institute said. A 2011 insurance industry study of 115 car-truck crashes found about four-fifths involved so-called underride. The cars with the most under ride accounted for 23 of the 28 fatal crashes in the study.

“When the guards failed, head and neck injury measures were so high that real drivers would have died,” the insurance institute said about the study. The group had already petitioned the U.S. Transportation Department to tighten regulations for the trailers two years ago. As Canada has already toughened its regulations to make the guards stronger, and manufacturers have re-engineered their trailers in response, the institute’s study says it shows in their most recent testing results.

Manac Inc. of Quebec, Canada) was the only one of all eight companies to have a design strong enough to pass all three of the industry-funded institute's crash tests. While all eight companies' trailers passed an easier crash test, simulating a straight-on car-truck crash, trailers made by Hyundai Translead Inc., Wabash National Corp., Great Dane Trailers Inc., Stoughton Trailers Inc., Strick Corp., Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. and Vanguard National Trailer Corp., showed potentially fatal injuries to crash-test dummies. These included heads striking the trucks directly when a corner of a car was run into the edge of a trailer.

It's not all bad news, however. The trucking industry can be encouraged that the trailers showed marked improvements in two of the insurance institute's tests. Sean McNally, spokesman for the Arlington, Virginia-based American Trucking Associations also points out that collision-avoidance technology in cars and trucks may do even more to reduce fatal injuries in car and truck accidents.

“Highway safety for both the motoring public and our drivers is our first priority,” McNally said. “Under ride guards designed to save lives of automobile occupants must do exactly that, save lives. Still, the best way to prevent car-truck fatalities is to educate the public about how to share the road with trucks. Three-fourths of those deaths are “unintentionally initiated or caused by the driver of the car,” he said.