Proposed regulations would protect motorists from injury due to underride
When commercial trucks are involved in accidents with passenger cars, it's usually the motorist, not the trucker, who is injured or killed. New safety regulations may help to protect motorists from severe injury and death.
Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a proposed rule change that would upgrade the standards for rear impact crash protection for trucks and tractor-trailers. This upgraded protection would reduce the risk of rear underride, a major cause of fatalities.
In an underride accident, a smaller vehicle such as a passenger car actually slides underneath the body of a commercial truck upon impact. These accidents can lead to passenger compartment intrusion; that is, a part of the truck breaks through the windshield or roof of the car and enters the passenger compartment. Serious injury or death is highly likely in such accidents.
To prevent underride, most trucks and tractor-trailers are protected with rear impact guards that hang down from the back of the trailer. However, the evidence indicates that those guards may not be doing enough. Nearly four out of five fatal truck accidents involve at least some underride, suggesting that these types of collisions still pose a significant threat to motorists.
The new NHTSA regulations would require more robust rear impact guards to provide protection up to 35 mph - a significant increase over the 30 mph of protection under the current rules.
Product liability, insurance make truck accidents difficult cases
After an accident involving underride, a personal injury or wrongful death claim will likely be filed on behalf of the injured motorist or passengers. Litigating such cases can be complex because of the different liabilities involved in a truck accident. For instance, tractor-trailers usually have separate insurance for the cab and the trailer. In an underride accident, the insurer for the trailer is most likely to be involved.
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, liability might fall on one party or multiple parties. For instance, if the rear impact guard was improperly designed or not up to the regulatory standards, the manufacturer of the vehicle might be to blame. If an otherwise adequate rear impact guard was allowed to rust or otherwise fall into disrepair due to poor maintenance, fault may fall on the driver or the trucking company.
Hopefully, these new regulations will make the roads safer for motorists in Arkansas and across the country. Manufacturers and trucking companies will need to make sure their vehicles are adequately protected against underride accidents - and when they do not, injured motorists and their advocates will hold them accountable.