Large tractor trailers are common sights on the highways and byways of Kansas and Missouri, but you probably don’t pay much attention to their parts and components. Most people aren't aware of the safety features trucks are required to have to keep occupants of passenger cars safe in a collision—until they are involved in a crash with a truck lacking that feature.

One vitally important feature that all semi-trucks must have is a rear underride guard. This is a metal bar—often in the shape of the letter H—that hangs from the rear of the trailer. Its purpose is to prevent smaller cars from sliding under the trailer in a rear-end collision. While there is a federal mandate that all trucks have this feature, there are no minimum standards in place for its construction or installation. Because of this, far too many trucks have underride guards that are insufficient to prevent fatalities in all crash situations.

Why Are Underride Guards Important?

semi trucksRear underride guards have been required on all tractor trailers since 1998 and have undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives.

Because the height of a semi-truck’s trailer is greater than that of most of the passenger cars on the road, there's a danger that when a car runs into the back of a semi-truck, its hood will slide underneath the trailer rather than being stopped by it. This means that the point of impact with the trailer becomes the car’s windshield and passenger compartment, which puts occupants at great risk.

These types of crashes have resulted in horrific fatal injuries and gruesome decapitations. The truck underride guard is designed to stop the car at the bumper, taking advantage of the car’s crumple zone to protect the passenger compartment.

If Underride Guards Are Required, What’s the Problem?

When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) passed the truck underride guard mandate in 1998, it didn't include safety standards for the guards. This leaves the design, size, quality of materials, and method of installation up to individual truck manufacturers. While most underride guards are effective at stopping cars that hit the guard square on, many of them fail when being hit along the outer edges.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has petitioned NHTSA for tougher standards since 2011, but hasn't received a response. Any new federal mandate will cost trucking companies and independent truckers more money, and lawmakers have been hesitant to do that. Also, there are many other safety improvements others would like to see NHTSA implement, giving lawmakers a full agenda. However, some truck manufacturers are producing underride guards with impressive safety records without a federal mandate.

IIHS Rewards Safe Underride Guards

In an effort to encourage truck manufacturers to take the lead in implementing higher safety standards, the IIHS awards truck and trailer manufacturers for underride guards that pass all of their crash tests. Calling it the TOUGHGUARD award, IIHS recognized five manufacturers this year: Great Dane LLC, Manac Inc., Stoughton Trailers LLC, Vanguard National Trailer Corp., and Wabash National Corp.

According to the IIHS website, “The IIHS TOUGHGUARD winners have rear guards that prevent underride of a midsize car in three test modes—full-width, 50 percent overlap, and 30 percent overlap. In each configuration, a midsize car travels at 35 mph toward a parked semitrailer. In the full-width test, which is the easiest to pass, the car strikes the center of guard head on. In the 50 percent overlap, half of the car's front end strikes the guard. In the toughest test, 30 percent of the front of the car strikes the trailer at its outermost corner.”

IIHS believes that all truck underride guards should be required to meet similar standards.

Have You Been Injured In A Truck Accident?

If you've been injured in a tractor trailer accident you need to speak with an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.


James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.
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