What Causes Truck Underride Accidents & What Can Prevent Them?

All truck accidents are hazardous, of course, but underride accidents are easily some of the most dangerous types of truck crashes. An underride accident occurs when a smaller vehicle drives under the trailer of a big rig, often shearing the top of the smaller vehicle off. As a result, nearly all underride accidents result in catastrophic injury or death.

What Contributes to a Truck Underride Accident?

Organizations like the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) have devoted plenty of time and resources to try to understand and prevent underride accidents. Through decades of research and analysis of underride accident sites, a number of causes have been identified.

Factors that may contribute to truck underride accident:

  • Incorrect expectations: When we imagine a tractor trailer, we picture a huge truck that dwarfs the size of some small homes. It seems impossible not to notice a tractor trailer across the road ahead. As such, people are not looking for tractor trailers blocking the road since it seems like it just shouldn’t be possible. This incorrect alignment of expectations and the reality may significantly reduce a driver’s reaction time when quickly approaching a trailer, resulting in an underride accident.
  • Large silhouettes: Many underride accidents occur at night, when visibility is low, but streetlights are all lit. Due to the large size of a trailer, it will blot out a swath of streetlights, creating a big, rectangular silhouette without any clear definition. A black square against a black night is not easy to see, effectively rendering the trailer invisible to oncoming drivers.
  • Ineffective reflectors: Trailers are equipped with reflective tapes on their sides to catch and reflect the headlights of oncoming vehicles when crossing the road or stuck in an intersection. However, the dim light coming off the reflectors may serve less as a warning to a motorist and more as a distraction. It can be confusing to see spots of light where it seems none should be, resulting in a driver who is focused on the lights and not the trailer that is coming into view.

Guardrails on Trucks Can Prevent Underride Accidents

Currently, the best option to help significantly reduce the chances of an underride accident is equipping all tractor trailers with guardrails. Sideguards and rearguards can be equipped on trailers to slow and redirect smaller vehicles that drive under the trailer. Most guardrails are designed as a durable metal grate attached to the side or back of a trailer, hanging below the tractor. Effectively, it turns the space below the trailer into a cage with the guardrails stopping vehicles from going in.

As effective as sideguards and rearguards on big rigs may be, you will probably notice that all of these larger vehicles are equipped with this safety feature. In fact, glancing at trucks on the highway will probably show you more trucks without guardrails than trucks with them.

Despite underride accidents being a prominent concern with the DOT and related agencies for decades, the ability to effectively regulate the trucking industry and ensure all trailers are equipped with guardrails remains elusive. In the meantime, all truckers must be careful not to get their trailers stuck across lanes, and all motorists must be vigilant about identifying misplaced trailers on the road ahead.

If you or a loved one get into a serious truck accident in California, dial (855) 930-2626 to connect with Frantz Law Group, APLC. Our truck accident attorneys have represented thousands upon thousands of clients across the years, achieving multiple multimillion dollar case results along the way. Find out more about our legal representation by contacting us today.


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