Of all the motor vehicle accidents, commercial truck crashes are amongst the most severe and pose the greatest risk of serious or perhaps fatal injuries. The size and weight difference between a large commercial truck such as a tractor-trailer and a standard passenger vehicle are the obvious reasons why the driver or occupants of the smaller car are at risk for catastrophic injuries when these two vehicles collide on the road or highway.
Just like typical car vs. car crashes, there are many different types and causes of commercial truck crashes. At Mahaney & Pappas, LLP, our Framingham car accident lawyers have helped people seriously injured in many different types of truck accidents. Some involve rear-end collisions, head-on collision, or side-swipe crashes. However, out of all trucking crashes, an underride crash is usually at the top of the list of the most severe.
About Underride Truck Crashes
In a typical car versus car accident, it’s bumper meets bumper. In that scenario, the safety features of modern-day motor vehicles play an important lifesaving role. There are crumple zones and air bags meant to absorb the force of the collision. Generally, in regular car accidents, the two vehicles are mostly the same size and weight. This obviously lessens the force of impact. However, smaller passenger cars are no match for the huge tractor-trailers traveling at high rates of speed down the highways.
An underride crash is when a motor vehicle slides underneath the body of a trailer in a tractor trailer combination. In underride crashes, there is a complete mismatch between the car and the tractor trailer. In these types of accidents, the front or side of the smaller car becomes wedged underneath the trailer, often resulting in severe damage to the vehicle and significant injuries or fatalities to the driver and occupants. These can be the deadliest of tractor-trailer versus motor vehicle crashes.
The Two Basic Types of Underride Crashes
There are several different types of underride truck crashes. The two most common are the side underride crashes and rear underride crashes.
Side Underride Crashes
In a side underride crash, the smaller vehicle collides with the underside of a trailer-truck, typically at the middle section of the trailer. This impact may cause the car to slide partially or entirely underneath the trailer. In some cases we have handled, when a car slides or crashes underneath a tractor-trailer, often the top of the car is completely sheared off. Side underride accidents can be particularly dangerous because the car's occupant compartment can be crushed or compromised, leading to severe injuries or fatalities.
Rear Underride Crashes
In rear underride crashes, the collision occurs when a passenger vehicle strikes the rear end of a truck and slides underneath the trailer. The clear height difference between the car and the bottom of the trailer typically results in the car's windshield or roof making forceful impact with the trailer. Rear underride crashes are most common on the highways. The danger with rear underride crashes on the highways come from the speed of the crash. On the highway, vehicles are typically traveling at high rates of speed (i.e., 65 or 70+ mph). The speed combined with the clear size difference is why rear underride crashes usually cause catastrophic injuries to the vehicle's driver and occupants.
Regardless of the type of underride crashes, the car’s bumper usually doesn’t make contact with the tractor trailer and the safety features built into the car are of no use. It is typically the windshield along with the head and upper body of the occupants that takes the force of the collision resulting in catastrophic injuries if not fatalities. This is referred to as Passenger Compartment Intrusion (“PCI”). In some cases we have handled, when a car slides or crashes underneath a tractor-trailer, often the top of the car is completely sheared off. These types of accidents almost always result in severe injuries and fatalities.
Protections For Underride Crashes
Safety advocates have highlighted the need for effective underride protection systems on commercial trucks, such as rear guards and side guards, to help prevent or mitigate the severity of these accidents. These safety measures aim to prevent passenger vehicles from sliding underneath the trailers, providing a barrier to protect occupants in the event of a collision.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has mandated certain protections for commercial trucking crashes. For example, current Federal Standards require rear underride guards. You see these all the time on the back of trailers on our Massachusetts highways. It is a steel bar hanging below the end of the trailer that is meant to prevent passenger compartment intrusions by acting like the bumper on a motor vehicle. Truckers often refer to the rear bar as “I catch cars” in reference to the ICC regulations regarding rear underride guards.
Unfortunately, there are no set standards for the strength and durability of a rear underride guard. NHSTA rules regarding underride protection are that the rear impact guards on trailers and semi-trailers possess “sufficient strength and energy absorption” to protect occupants of passenger vehicles. In reality, most rear underride guards are too weak to absorb the force of a motor vehicle collision and despite one’s best intention of having such a guard, passenger compartment intrusions continue to occur.
While there are no Federal Standards for side guards on commercial trailers, efforts are continually being made to improve underride protection standards and increase awareness about the importance of these safety measures in the trucking industry to reduce the frequency and severity of underride trucking crashes.
Options for Those Seriously Injured in an Underride Trucking Accident
Regardless of what type of underride crash causes you or your loved ones severe injuries, you may be entitled to compensation for serious injuries and financial losses caused by the crash. As in any Massachusetts personal injury case, the injured party must prove that the truck driver or trucking/trailer company was negligent in order to be entitled to recover compensation.
In either type of underride accidents, the truck driver, the trucking company, and the original manufacturer of the trailer may share in the responsibility for the catastrophic results. A qualified Massachusetts truck accident attorney should be consulted to examine the facts of the accident and make determinations if the manufacturer as well as the trucking company should be held responsible.
Commercial truck accidents can be overwhelming in the beginning days after an accident with a number of complex legal issues. Properly establishing fault in these complex matters will always require a thorough investigation, expert opinions, and exhaustive litigation in pursuing compensation. Our Framingham truck accident attorneys at Mahaney Pappas, LLP have the experience, the tools, and the experts available to offer accident victims skillful and qualified legal representation in pursuit of financial compensation.