Underride accidents result in hundreds of fatalities every year. Further, even when occupants of smaller vehicles survive, their injuries are far more severe, often life-changing. Underride accidents involve the smaller vehicle being crushed or having its roofs sheared off, with horrifying results such as severe disfigurement, spinal injuries and head trauma.
The danger of underride collision is supposed to be minimized by truck trailers using underride guards (also called rear impact guards). However, the federal standards for such guards are, currently, insufficient. Even at modest speeds, cars colliding with either moving or parked trailers can easily slide underneath. Besides the problem of inadequate guard strength, there is no standard of guard design. Some guards end up being, for all intents, ornamental.
What it comes down to is doing what you can to avoid this danger and that is, don’t follow big rigs closely. As much as is practical under given circumstances, put more space between you and any large truck. When driving conditions worsen (nighttime, fog, rain, snow) increase the distance even more. Changed conditions increase the chances that a trucker may slow down his rig; so that increases the chance of an accident. At a minimum, you should maintain enough distance that you can be clearly seen in a trucker’s mirror. If you’re going to pass a truck, consider changing lanes sooner and passing as quickly and safely as conditions allow. Don’t accelerate into or linger in a truck’s blind spot.
More research is being done on how to make underride guards more effective, but that could take years and, regardless, the truck you’re following may not have them installed at the time of an accident. Your best bet is to use driving habits that reduce your chances of visiting the underside of a big rig. Stay away from them….the risk of underride is too high!