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Senate bill would mandate tractor-trailer side underride guards

More than 200 road users in Pennsylvania and around the country are killed each year when the passenger vehicles they are traveling in strike the side of a semi-tractor trailer. The National Transportation Safety Board urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to mandate the fitting of side guards to all new tractor-trailers in 2014, but the recommendation was nonbinding and no regulation was introduced.

However, Congress has now taken an interest in the issue, and a bipartisan bill introduced on Dec. 12 would require commercial vehicle operators to fit both rear and side underride protection to all of their trucks. NHTSA introduced a regulation requiring the fitting of rear underride guards, which are also known as Mansfield bars, in 1998. The bars are named after the actress Jane Mansfield who was killed in an underride accident in 1967.

Trade groups including the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association have opposed regulations that would mandate the fitting of side guards. These groups say that the costs and technical challenges involved in installing side guards outweigh their safety benefits, and they also claim that adding additional side protection to trailers could add dangerous amounts of weight and weaken other crucial components. These arguments are likely to be scrutinized closely when NHTSA releases the results of a research project on side underride protection that was initiated by the agency in 2016.

Underride accidents often take place at intersections, and it may not be immediately clear which driver was at fault. When the defendants in truck accident lawsuits are likely to claim that the plaintiffs involved are either partly or wholly responsible, experienced personal injury attorneys may seek to gather additional evidence. Attorneys may canvass the area for eyewitnesses that may have been overlooked by accident investigators and look for security or traffic cameras that may have recorded the events in question.

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