Sometimes, Trucking Accidents Spur New Safety Innovations



Austin Personal Injury Lawyers

Austin Personal Injury Lawyers - Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP

Austin, TX (Law Firm Newswire) November 28, 2014 – Big rigs did not always have the collision safety precautions they now have. It took the death of a star to have underride bars installed.

“Some commercial trucks you see today on Texas highways have an underride bar installed at the back of the truck. It’s a strong metal grill that hangs down past the tailgate and is designed to prevent cars from going under the truck in the case of a collision,” detailed Austin personal injury lawyer Brooks Schuelke. Often mistaken for stepladders to help load the truck, the bars prevent a person from being decapitated if the tractor-trailer is rear-ended.

Underride bars are also referred to as Mansfield Bars after actor Jayne Mansfield. Mansfield’s vehicle ran into the back of an 18-wheeler in 1967. Many media reports claimed that Mansfield had been decapitated, but the funeral home director involved stated that her body was intact on arrival to the embalming room. Nonetheless, the sensational news coverage led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to introduce a new safety regulation requiring underride bars.

Thirty years later, the rule had been eroded so badly that most big rigs were exempt from the bar requirement. The guard height was also continually adjusted. In the last decade most small cars could travel under the back of a truck in a collision. 

Fast-forward to 2014 and an accident involving a Walmart truck – the truck that rear-ended comedian Tracy Morgan’s vehicle, killing one and seriously injuring several others, including Morgan.

The trucker in Morgan’s case was speeding at 20 miles an hour over the limit, trying to make a deadline. The automatic collision detection technology in his truck failed to apply the brakes. How does this relate to Jayne Mansfield and the underride bar?

“This high-profile accident shines a bright spotlight on several ugly truths about the trucking industry that relate to the number of hours truckers may legally drive, to truck maintenance, to driving regulations and to how truckers are paid,” explained Schuelke. “Trucking industry policies can interfere with highway safety. What is to be done about that? Will this accident result in further policies to enhance safety? Will those policies also end up largely dismissed?”

More than 4,000 Americans die in big-rig crashes every year; 100,000 sustain significant injuries. Driving a fully loaded tractor-trailer while fatigued is an accident looking for a place to happen. The obvious solution would be to increase rest breaks and reduce driving time. However, the industry is loathe to consider that option, as it would undermine company profit margins.

Putting profits over driver and community safety has to stop. “I have seen and worked with plaintiffs who lived to tell their stories about being involved in an accident with an 18-wheeler. Their stories are gut-wrenching and their injuries catastrophic. Without the assistance of an experienced trucking accident attorney, those who need lifetime care may not get a fair and equitable resolution of their case. My door is open to you,” added Schuelke.

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