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How Regulators Failed to Act: The Deadly Threat to Cars from 18-Wheelers

Underride crashes, the nightmarish collisions between cars and large trucks, have claimed countless lives and caused devastating injuries. Despite the alarming frequency of these accidents, regulators have failed to take decisive action to prevent them.

In this blog post, we delve into the critical issue of underride crashes and explore the inaction by regulatory bodies that has perpetuated this deadly threat to cars. We also examine a thought-provoking report by FRONTLINE that sheds light on the gravity of the situation.

Understanding Underride Crashes

Underride crashes are incredibly dangerous collisions between cars and large trucks where the car slides underneath the truck's trailer. These crashes often occur when a smaller vehicle involved in the accident is traveling at a high speed or the truck driver fails to slow down or stop when necessary. In many cases, the force of impact can be so great that the top of the car is sheared off, crushing its occupants.

Underride crashes are an unfortunately common occurrence on roads throughout the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were over 4,000 underride collisions in the US during 2018 alone. Moreover, 632 fatalities resulted from these accidents, with a further 956 people sustaining serious injuries.

Some of the most devastating underride accidents are rear-end collisions, where the car collides with the back of an 18-wheeler. Unfortunately, many trucking companies fail to adhere to safety regulations requiring that their trailers be outfitted with guardrails or other protective devices. As a result, the occupants of smaller vehicles involved in these crashes often suffer severe injuries and fatalities.


A recent report from PBS FRONTLINE titled, "How Regulators Failed to Act to Prevent Underride Crashes," examines the dangers of truck-related underride crashes and what safety regulations could have been put in place to prevent them. The report looks at how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) failed to act on mounting evidence that showed increased risks of injury and death in truck-related underride crashes. The report highlights the fact that although there were calls for more stringent safety regulations, including a federal mandate to install guardrails on trucks, these requests were ignored or denied.

The report serves to bring attention to the importance of investigative journalism and how it can be used as a tool to hold those in power accountable. In this case, the FRONTLINE report demonstrated that regulators have failed to act on evidence that showed an increased risk of injury and death due to truck-related underride crashes. This is why it is so important to hold those in power to a higher standard and ensure that regulations are implemented in order to protect the safety of all road users.

At Goldstein Hayes & Lina, LLC, we believe that it is essential for investigative journalism reports like these to be released in order to bring attention to issues such as truck-related underride crashes and hold regulators accountable.

Regulators' Inadequate Response

Multiple factors have contributed to the regulatory failures surrounding underride crashes. Chief among them is the trucking industry's resistance to stricter regulations. Lobbying efforts by the trucking industry have slowed down or completely shut down progress for proposed safety measures such as rear underride guards.

Furthermore, regulators have failed to take into account the increasing number of trucks on our roads and how that affects the risk of collisions and underride crashes. The current regulations do not reflect the reality of our roads today, where more than eleven million large trucks share the road with other drivers. This means that regulators need to update their standards in order to accommodate this new reality and ensure that all drivers are adequately protected from underride crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have been criticized for their lack of urgency in enacting and enforcing appropriate safety standards to prevent truck-related underride crashes. Despite mounting evidence of the risks posed by these crashes, which the PBS FRONTLINE report outlines in detail, there has been a significant amount of delay and indecisiveness demonstrated by these regulatory bodies.

For example, back in August 2019, the NHTSA proposed that rear guards be included on all trucks to help protect other drivers from underride collisions. However, nearly a year later no decision had been made on this proposed rule. This delay was due in part to the inaction from both the NHTSA and DOT, as well as resistance from industry lobbyists who sought to keep regulations from moving forward.

In addition, despite calls from advocacy groups such as The Center for Auto Safety and Joan Claybrook—a former NHTSA administrator—for stronger regulations to address underride crashes, regulators have largely failed to act. This lack of action demonstrates an indifference towards road safety and puts countless lives at risk every day.

Impact on Public Safety

The human toll of truck-related underride crashes is immense. Sadly, these preventable accidents have devastating consequences, often leading to fatalities and severe injuries.

Take for example the case of a 21-year-old woman from California, who was killed when her car was rear-ended by a large truck. The truck had no rear guard installed, resulting in the woman's vehicle being dragged underneath it for over 100 feet before coming to a stop. This tragic incident serves as an example of how life can be cut short due to the negligence of regulators and trucking companies who fail to take appropriate safety measures seriously.

The families of those who are affected by underride crashes also feel the brunt of this tragedy. In May 2018, Erin Alexander and her friend were killed in Indiana after their car collided with a semi-trailer carrying construction materials. Alexander's mother, Christa Hammack, spoke out against the lack of regulations surrounding underride protection and called on legislators to do more to address this issue. She said that "These conversations have to happen now. They have to be real. They have to be raw, and they have to be timely...and the only way that this happens is if the legislators put it up in front of them and get going."

It is clear that these tragedies take an immense emotional toll on those directly affected, as well as all members of our society. We must recognize this human cost and strive towards creating policies and regulations that improve safety for all drivers on the roads today.

How Other Countries Are Tackling Underride Crashes

The potential for prevention of underride crashes is both tangible and achievable. In countries such as Sweden, Canada, and the United Kingdom, higher standards of safety have been implemented with great success.

In Sweden, trucks are required to have side guards installed along their frames—which are designed to absorb the force of an underride crash in the event that a car collides with them. This measure has been found to reduce fatal pedestrian crashes by up to 46%.

Furthermore, many countries have adopted a ‘Safety First’ approach when it comes to truck safety regulations. For example, in Canada, all new heavy-duty vehicles must be equipped with rear guards which meet certain standards set by Transport Canada. These guards are designed to protect cars and other smaller vehicles from sliding underneath the trucks in an underride crash. The implementation of this regulation has been credited with decreasing underride fatalities by up to 90%.

The United Kingdom has also taken steps towards improving truck safety regulation; they implemented the Managed Motorways Scheme which requires that all heavy goods vehicles over 3.5 tons must be fitted with Class V (Type Approved) sideguards on roads where speed limits exceed 50mph. After its introduction, accidents involving pedestrians dropped by approximately 4% within two years – demonstrating that effective safety regulations can indeed produce positive results and help save lives.

These successful measures demonstrate how much progress can be made when governments take proactive steps toward improving truck safety regulations and implementing effective guardrails for underride protection. It is essential that similar regulations are put into place in the United States in order to give drivers on our roads greater protection from harm caused by dangerous underride crashes.


Underride crashes pose a grave danger to car occupants, resulting in tragic consequences that could be prevented. Despite the urgency and alarming statistics, regulators have failed to take the necessary steps to address this deadly threat. The PBS FRONTLINE report serves as a wake-up call, urging us to demand action and hold regulators accountable for the safety of our roads. By raising awareness, supporting change, and advocating for stricter safety regulations, we can contribute to the eradication of underride crashes and protect countless lives.

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