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Nearly 50 Years After the Mansfield Accident, Trucks Are Still Not Required to be Equipped with Side Underride Guards

Imagine for a moment a new celebrity who is breaking into the cultural consciousness and seems to be in every new movie, show, or other entertainment you are interested in.  Now, imagine if this individual’s seeming one-way ticket to success and stardom was canceled in shocking, grisly, but entirely preventable highway accident. You would probably assume that such a high-profile incident would spur Congress to enact legislation that would minimize or eliminate the risk. Unfortunately, time and time again, history shows us that this is not what plays out.

If you haven’t already seen through the “hypothetical” situation above, it refers to the rise and death of Hollywood celebrity Jayne Mansfield. Ms. Mansfield seemed to be on the top of the world when a trucking accident abruptly ended her life. However, her injuries could have been prevented with a simple and proven mechanical device. Despite this fact, Congress took no action for decades.

A Rear Underride Guard Mandate was Enacted in 1998, But No Side-Guard Rule Exists

Despite the shocking and grisly decapitation of Ms. Mansfield when her vehicle rear-ended and under-rode a truck, Congress took no action to mandate the use of rear underride guards. Thus, for decades, thousands of Americans continued to suffer preventable injuries due to this failure to address a known trucking safety risk.

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In fact, such a requirement to mandate the installation of proper rear underride guards did not occur until the late 1990s. In 1998, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finally enacted a rule requiring covered trucks and commercial motor vehicles to come equipped with underride guards — now referred to as Mansfield bars.

However, as any driver can see, truck trailers are four-sided rectangular objects. While the truck cab reduces or eliminates the potential for a vehicle to pass under the truck trailed in the front, that still leaves three sides of the trailer. As set forth above, the Mansfield bar can prevent a vehicle from passing under the rear of the trail. However, that still leaves the two sides of the trailer which also happen to be the longest edges of the truck’s body. Cars, light trucks, and other passenger vehicles can still pass under the sides of the truck trailer causing severe injuries.

However, our safety regime does not have to have these blind spots. In Canada and Europe, side underride guards are already mandated and part of a truck’s standard equipment. Side underride guards are not only useful in reducing motorist deaths due to under-ride, they can also reduce pedestrian deaths. In recent years, pedestrian deaths have spiked. One cause behind this spike in increased numbers of large vehicles in urban and high population density. These guards can channel pedestrians who may be hit by a truck away from the vehicle wheels that frequently cause fatal crushing injuries.

Unfortunately, the trucking industry has lobbied against introducing a side underride guard requirement. While NHTSA has recognized this safety device’s efficacy, Congress appears to have no plans to implement this type of mandate.

Congress Also Shirked Its Duty To Promote Highway Safety Following Tracy Morgan‘s Accident

Most people are aware of the New Jersey Turnpike accident that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan and others and killed comedian James McNair. Here, a fatigued truck driver who had not slept in more than 24 hours rammed into the rear of the limousine carrying the party. The driver was dozing off or distracted and did not see the traffic stopped ahead.

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Most reasonable people would expect Congress to crackdown on fatigued driving and violations of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules and regulations. Instead, Congress loosened safety standards by jettisoning aspects of the hours of service rules. The hours of service rules limit the number of hours a commercial motor vehicle driver can be on active duty. However, industry lobbying efforts resulted in the suspension of aspects of these rules despite public outrage.

Gaps in Highway Safety Regime Can Result in Preventable Accidents

Unfortunately, Congress’s unwillingness to close gaps in the highway and vehicle safety regime means that hundreds or thousands of Americans will unnecessarily suffer injury. Even more troubling, however, is Congress’s apparent willingness to create new gaps in the safety rules and regulations. Such actions will mean that an even greater number of Americans will suffer unnecessary injuries, pain and suffering, and other disruptions to their life because of preventable accidents.

Contact a Truck Accident Attorney Who Will Have Your Best Interests In Mind

If you or a loved one have suffered a serious accident due to a negligent trucking company or a careless truck driver, the New York State Route 25A truck accident injury attorneys of Reiff Law Firm’s The Truck Accident Team may be able to fight for you. To schedule a confidential consultation, call our law firm at (215) 709-6940 or contact us online today.

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