I-TEAM: Fatal underride crashes in US are ‘grossly underreported,’ attorney says. Here’s why

84-year-old man was killed in St. Johns County after crashing into side of semitruck

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM is digging deeper in to a deadly type of crash, where cars and SUVs can go under the trailer of a semitruck.

One such crash happened Tuesday morning along US-1 in St. Johns County, when an 84-year-old man died after crashing into the side of a semi that was blocking the road. State troopers are still investigating the cause.

It’s called an underride crash, and the I-TEAM has been investigating these types of crashes since 2020. During that time, the I-TEAM has not found a reliable number for how many people have been killed due to underride crashes in the U.S.

“Sadly, the statistics are grossly underreported,” said Andy Young with the Law Firm For Truck Safety.

Semitrucks are essential for just about everything we buy. But safety advocates say the big rigs have a design flaw that the government has overlooked for decades. The large part under a semi — an underride — is a prime space for a smaller vehicle to slide under.

“The safety engineering features that are built into your car, the energy absorbing bumpers, the crumple zones, the airbags, the seat belts, literally and figuratively go out the window because the first point of impact when a car hits the side of a trailer is the windshield and then the skulls of the people inside that particular car,” Young said.

That was clearly the case Tuesday in a crash in St. Johns County, when a man driving an SUV was killed.

Young says an underride guard could have changed the outcome, regardless of who was at fault in the collision.

“Had he had a side underride guard, I think the gentleman involved in this particular crash would have survived,” Young said.

Victims’ families have pushed lawmakers for a federal requirement mandating these safety measures, but to this day, they’re optional and on only a small number of the nation’s tractor trailers.

“The problem begins with the police reports themselves,” explained Young.

The Institute for Safer Trucking’s 2022 report shows only 17 of 50 states have an underride field on their accident reports that police, deputies and troopers fill out after a crash.

Neither Florida nor Georgia has that field on their forms, which means an investigator must physically write “underride” in a report’s narrative for it to make it into national numbers.

We checked for ourselves in a Florida traffic crash report issued by the state. It has dozens of choices for types and factors of crashes, but underride is not there, nor is the broader term: “passenger compartment intrusion.”

“If only 17 states have a field that require an underride box to be checked, and the rest of the states don’t have it, then, obviously, you’re going to have underreporting and under counting, and then we need to have a fix to this thing so more people don’t die,” Young said.

Young contends that lawmakers aren’t getting a full picture of how many people are dying. He and victims’ families are asking for a nationwide requirement for not just underride guards, but proper reporting of these types of crashes.

We’ve requested additional information from the state of Florida, asking whether there are plans to add underride reporting to crash reports.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.