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Could semitruck guardrails save lives?

Motorists in states like California may someday become safer thanks to a proposed bill aimed at semitruck designs. In late December 2017, federal lawmakers proposed legislation that would require large commercial trucks to include side guards to prevent a deadly type of collision known as an underride. The real question is whether such developments will actually result in an effective law that saves lives.

Underride accidents: What's really at stake?

Motorists in smaller vehicles are in almost as much danger from hitting trucks as they are when trucks hit them. When regular-sized cars impact with trucks, they can experience a gruesome kind of accident known as an underride: As the car's momentum continues pushing it forward, its lower portion slides under the truck body and the upper section gets smashed and ripped away.

These accidents commonly prove fatal to the smaller vehicle's occupants. According to NBC News, underride wrecks claim at least 200 American lives annually.

Could a simple fix raise drivers' odds of survival?

The bill proposed in December drew many of its cues from European regulations and established research. By mandating that semitrucks include side underride guards, the new rule might lower the likelihood that someone will die after striking the side of a larger truck and partially sliding beneath it.

Research from the National Transportation Safety Board establishes that around 50 percent of all injurious collisions between passenger cars and the sides of trucks involve underrides. It also suggests countermeasures such as guards around the front, sides and rear of commercial vehicles.

Politically motivated opposition

With evidence from the government's own researchers and successful trials in Europe and Japan, why aren't semitruck underride guards mandatory in the U.S.? The resistance to change may come down to politics and economics. As industry watchers note, trucking industry players tend to resist new safety rules due to their cost. They also have the money to lobby lawmakers who might normally support such regulations.

Will California's roads ever become safer for those who share the highways and streets with large trucks? It might just be a matter of time. More people are growing aware of how easily these accidents could be prevented. Truck fleet owners may soon feel the pressure to change – or risk negative public opinion.

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