What Is An Underride Crash And Why They Can Be Deadly

Tractor-trailer accidents are perhaps the most devastating type of accident due to trucks themselves. These vehicles are extremely heavy and move at incredibly fast speeds. Underride crashes are the deadliest kinds of car accidents involving trucks. 

Over 800 people in the U.S. die from these horrific collisions with many surviving drivers sustaining serious injuries. To understand why these crashes are so dangerous, drivers must understand what these crashes are and why they pose a significant risk.

What is an underride crash?

An accident classified as an underride crash occurs when a vehicle, typically a full-size sedan or smaller, crashes into a truck’s trailer sliding underneath in between the gaps of the wheels. This leaves the occupants of the smaller vehicle vulnerable to the sharp metal of the frame and usually comes with dire consequences.

For years, truck safety organizations advocated for side rails to be mandated which could help prevent these kinds of crashes. As of now, the National Highway Safety Administration does not require trucking owners or companies to install these railings.

What makes an underride crash so dangerous?

Part of what makes these crashes so deadly is the position at which they occur. The truck bed collides with the hood and windshield of the car. Because of this awkward point-of-collision, the airbags may fail to activate. Several other factors contribute to lethality of underride crashes, as highlighted in a 2019 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office:

  • Size difference: Trucks are significantly taller and heavier than passenger cars. This imbalance in size means the smaller vehicle is essentially crushed into the truck’s undercarriage, with little to no protection for its occupants.
  • Lack of crumple zones: Unlike passenger cars designed to absorb impact through crumple zones, truck undercarriages offer minimal protection. This means the full force of the collision is transferred directly to the passenger compartment.
  • Exposure to sharp edges: The undercarriage of a truck is a combination of sharp metal components like axles, brackets, and hangers. These components can slice through the top section of most passenger cars leading to life-threatening injuries.

Why do underride crashes happen?

Underride crashes, often resulting from a combination of factors, occur due to the significant size disparity between trucks and passenger cars, allowing smaller vehicles to slide beneath the truck’s trailer in collisions, where protective crumple zones are absent. Inadequate underguards, particularly in high-speed collisions, and the absence of federally mandated side guards expose passenger vehicles to vulnerability. 

Contributing to these incidents are behaviors such as sudden truck braking on slippery roads and distracted driving by both truck and car drivers. Mechanical failures, including faulty brakes or detached trailer parts, can lead to uncontrolled movements, while adverse environmental conditions such as rain, snow, or fog further complicate driver reactions.

Improperly loaded cargo within the trailer can destabilize the truck, increasing the risk of sudden movements. Preventative measures, including stronger underguards, stricter regulations, responsible driving practices, and proper truck maintenance, are crucial in reducing the occurrence of these tragic accidents.

What should I do if I was in an underride crash?

The aftermath of an underride crash can be a plethora of shock, pain, and confusion. Sharing the road with a truck is daunting. The moments following such an accident are crucial, and taking the right steps can make a significant difference in your path to recovery and potential legal recourse.

  • Prioritize Safety First: Assess the scene for immediate danger. If your vehicle is blocking traffic or in a hazardous location, call emergency services right away. Ensure your own safety and that of any passengers, moving to a safe area if possible.
  • Seek Medical Attention: Even if you feel relatively unharmed, don’t dismiss a medical evaluation. Prompt medical attention helps document injuries and establish a baseline for any future health complications.
  • Report the Accident: File a police report to document the crash officially. Cooperate with any investigations and provide accurate information.
  • Contact a Truck Accident Attorney: Navigating the legal aftermath of an underride crash can be complex. Consulting with a truck accident attorney ensures your rights are protected and you receive proper compensation for your injuries and damages. 

The trauma of an underride crash can be overwhelming. Seeking legal counsel provides not only valuable guidance but also emotional support and advocacy during a difficult time. An experienced attorney can ease the burden of navigating the legal process and empower you to focus on your recovery.

Steven Hatman
Steven Hatman

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