JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Could deadly crashes involving semitrucks be prevented? A group of families who’ve lost loved ones hope a simple guard on the side of trucks could help lower the number of deaths in collisions between cars and tractor trailers.
An underride crash is when a car goes under a semitruck trailer. It can happen from the front, side or back of the trailer, and the results are often deadly.
Monday morning, family members joined together in a video call as part of a task force for the Stop Underrides Act, which would make protective guards under tractor trailers mandatory nationwide.
“His name was Guy. He was 16-years-old, an all-star baseball player. He was my favorite person in the world,” said Roy Crawford, whose son was killed in an underride crash.
“I lost my wife Leslie and my daughter Sophie two-and-a-half years ago,” said Jay Rosenberg.
Grieving loved ones have found comfort in each other as they continue to fight for better safety guards on the side and back of big rigs.
“Riley burned to death,” said father Eric Hein. “It was confirmed by the coroner that he had no physical injuries, so if underride guard had been installed it would have been a fender bender.”
Hein’s 16-year-old son, Riley, died on his way to high school in Albuquerque when a semitruck driver caused his Honda Civic to become pinned underneath the semi trailer.
The News4Jax I-TEAM has been investigating underride fatalities for a year and some lawmakers have taken notice of the issues.
The latest data collected by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that 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 that on average since 2010, there are about 500 truck underride deaths annually, 300 of which involve side underride.
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 semitruck on Zoo Parkway. In late February, a driver was pinned under a semi in Alachua County. They were taken to the hospital with critical injuries.
Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, once again introduced a bill to make guards mandatory on all new semitrucks across the country. Those already on the road would have stricter standards. A similar bill is in the House.
On Monday, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee, and Mark DeSaulnier, D-California will introduce identical legislation in the U.S. House.
The Stop Underrides Act is being referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.
But after years of attempts, the proposals have stalled on Capitol Hill.
“The equipment shown in the video is at 35 mph, 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 has requested an updated opinion.
“We’re putting fuel efficiency skirts on these trailers that hang low just to safe fuel, why aren’t we doing something more robust to save lives?” questioned Andy Young, an attorney representing many of the families in their push for change.
Young said the tractor trailer industry and lobbyists are claiming it’d be too expensive to add the guards on every big rig in America.
Several guards are already on the market, costing about $3,000 to go on an existing semi. New ones, he said, would be significantly less if produced en masse. It’s a price these families hope trucking companies are willing to pay to save lives.
Marianne Karth, who lost her daughters in 2013 is urging people to reach out to their lawmakers and press them to make the bill a law. AnnaLeah and Mary Karth, were killed when they were sitting in the back seat of a car which was hit by a tractor-trailer and spun around backward into the back of another tractor-trailer so that the back of the car went under the truck.
“Families are appealing to the federal government, trucking companies and trailer manufacturers to fix the car-truck underride crash problem,” Karth said. “It’s been over 100 years. Past victims and potential future victims are begging: Fix this problem how.”
More information about the Stop Underrides Act can be found here.