53ºF

Deadly defect? Deaths expose flaws in semi-truck design

600 Americans died in one year from truck ‘underride’ crashes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Florida mother calls it a “deadly defect,” a flaw in the design of semi-trucks that records show is claiming hundreds of lives each year. But she says laws and industry-wide investments can save lives.

Lois Durso’s daughter, Roya Sadigh, was killed the day before Thanksgiving in 2004 when the car she was a passenger in went under the side of a semi-truck in Pennsylvania.

“It was a phone call,” Durso said, remembering the horrible news. “It was the emergency room doctor wanting to talk to me and he said that my daughter was in a crash in Indiana but she didn’t make it at the hospital.”

Her daughter’s fiancé, who was driving, survived. But Roya’s side of the vehicle was sardined under the truck trailer.

It’s called a truck underride crash and she’s pushing to increase the survivability of these types of wrecks.

“I think about where she would be, what she would be doing, I think about the children that she never had,” Durso said. “I think about the life that she would’ve had. And it breaks my heart. There is nothing worse than losing your child.”

DOCUMENT: Petition calls on lawmakers to pass underride regulations

The latest data collected by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows in 2018 approximately 600 Americans died from side and rear underride crashes. It’s estimated that around 280 people died in crashes involving side underride in 2018, according to numbers requested by News4Jax. IIHS figures show, on average since 2010, there are about 500 truck underride deaths annually, 300 of which involve side underride.

Since Sadigh’s death, Durso has made it her mission to lower the numbers. She said the technology is already in place, but lawmakers need to mandate it on all trucks across the country.

She met Marianne Karth, who lost her two daughters, AnnaLeah and Mary, in a 2013 rear underride crash. The two have teamed up with other parents and safety advocates.

“I just think anyone that uses our roadway should be concerned,” she said.

They helped convince Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who introduced the Stop Underrides Act in 2017. While it had bipartisan support, three years later, it is still not a law. Durso believes it’s been stalled by the high-dollar, powerful trucking industry which is trying to save money.

Crash tests from IIHS show how easy it is for a car to slide under the side of a semi and how hard it can be to survive.

The institute’s researchers believe that underride crashes are underreported, because there is no universal way to put them into reports and track them.

However, it claimed another life May 1 on Jacksonville’s Northside. A 73-year-old driver died after her car went under a semi-truck on Zoo Parkway.

“These trucks and trailers should have under ride protection,” said attorney Andy Young. “In fact, it should be 360.”

Young is an partner at the Law Firm for Truck Safety. He’s been working with Durso, Karth and other familes who’ve lost loved ones for years. He’s testified on Capitol Hill on the dangers and the potential solutions.

“It’s something that has to be done,” he said. “And it’s a no-brainer. I wish Congress could get along so if this thing could move forward and we could actually get this accomplished so that we’re all on the roadways with these guards underneath these trailers.”

The “Stop Underrides Act” would require side guards and enhanced front and rear protection on semis.

Rear guards are required in the U.S., but studies have found many are weak and buckle or break away on impact.

The industry has argued side guards are expensive to install and add weight to a truck, costing more in fuel. Leaders have also questioned the practicality and effectiveness of the metal rails and bumpers.

“The equipment shown in the video is at 35 mile an hour and it is my understanding it is not effective beyond 35 mph,” said American Trucking Associations president Chris Spear, when asked at a 2017 hearing before a congressional committee. News4Jax reached out for an updated opinion.

One of the products on the road already, the Angel Wing, weighs around 650 pounds and costs about $3,000 for a 53-foot trailer. The manufacturer, AirFlow Deflectors, has cut costs and weights over the years on the products. According to AirFlow, the product can actually improve fuel savings and aerodynamics.

“There is no good excuse that the truck trailer manufacturers association has for not putting these guards on,” Young noted. “They need to educate the trucking industry about these guards, how these guards can save their lives, in fact I submit to you that every trailer on the road is a defective product because it doesn’t have one of these guards on it right now.”

The Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, which oversees the American companies that makes trailers, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Lois Durso and her supporters believe trucks won’t get safer until our lawmakers make it mandatory. Something truckers we spoke to say they’d be willing to pay for.

Truck driver Luis Medina, an independent owner operator from Florida, said he’d support laws requiring sideguards.

“I’d support the law, I agree,” he said, noting that his friend was a driver involved in a fatal side underride crash. He said his friend was never the same and left logistics.

Driver Bruno Parsons agreed.

“An accident like that, there is no coming back from, you know?”

Durso said her mission is simple: she’ll keep pushing until it becomes a law.

“It was probably the most painful moment in my life,” she said of losing her daughter. “And I would never want to see anyone else go through it. And that’s why I’m here today.”

Advocates for more safety measures are asking people to reach out to their lawmakers asking them to push for underride protection. They also want supporters to reach out to the Truck Trailer Manufacturing Association as well as other industry leaders and encourage them to make a change. No word yet on when the act will go before Congress again. Durso and Karth have a website for more information: StopUnderrides.org.


About the Author: