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Tests show the effectiveness of side-mounted underride bars

Testing performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that the mandatory installation of side-mounted underride bars on semi-tractor trailers in California and around the country could save lives. Legislators are currently reviewing regulations that would mandate the fitting of underride bars to the rear of large commercial trucks, but the IIHS tests indicate that these safety features protect passenger vehicle occupants just as well when they are installed on the sides of trailers.

To gauge the effectiveness of side-mounted underride bars, the nonprofit organization conducted two crash tests involving family sedans traveling at 35 mph and two standard 53-foot van trailers. The trailers were fitted with either a side-mounted underride bar or an aerodynamic glass fiber skirt. Truck operators use such skirts to improve stability and reduce fuel consumption, but they do little to protect vehicle passengers in a crash.

While the sedan that crashed into the trailer fitted with a side-mounted underride bar was badly damaged, the device did its job and prevented the car from going under the truck. The testers concluded that any passengers in the sedan would have likely survived the crash. However, the glass fiber skirt offered virtually no protection, and passengers in the second car would have suffered fatal injuries according to the IIHS. The sedan came to a rest jammed underneath the trailer with most of its roof sheared off.

While regulations designed to keep road users safe may be laudable, personal injury attorneys may argue that commercial truck operators should install potentially life-saving safety features on their vehicles even if lawmakers do not yet require them to do so. Personal injury lawsuits often come down to arguments over foreseeability and duties of care, and attorneys may argue vigorously that truck operators who fail to adequately protect road users should be held financially responsible for their negligent actions.

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