This safer semi design aims to prevent car vs. truck tragedies

Grieving families believe most of these crashes are preventable

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s among the deadliest scenarios on the road: a car going under a semi-truck.

It’s called an underride crash, and across America, hundreds of people die every year in this scenario.

The latest numbers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show deaths were higher in 2019 than ever before:

  • 446 people died in crashes with the back of a semi.
  • 407 people were killed when their vehicles collided with the side of a semi.
  • Experts believe 75-85% of these fatalities involved underride crashes.

We are working to get numbers from 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Grieving families believe most of these crashes are preventable and something needs to be done to make these wrecks more survivable.

WATCH “SOLUTIONARIES: SAFER STREETS”

Roya’s Story

Roya Sadigh had so much ahead of her. She was a talented pianist about to get married. However, the day before Thanksgiving in 2004, she was gone in an instant.

“It was a phone call. 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,” recalled her mother, Lois Durso.

Durso lives with the pain every day. Sadigh and her fiancé were in a crash where their car skidded under the side of a semi-truck. He survived.

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

Now, she’s spreading the word about what she calls a deadly design, pushing for a law to make highways safer.

“I just think anyone that uses our roadways should be concerned,” she added.

Durso has teamed up with other families who’ve lost loved ones in underride crashes and gotten help from industry experts and the support of lawmakers, like U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida.

“You see an issue that could easily be solved,” said Andy Young, an attorney for the Law Firm for Truck Safety. “These trucks and trailers should have underride protection. In fact, it should be 360 degrees.”

Young has testified on Capitol Hill about the dangers and potential solutions.

Under federal law, trailers on U.S. highways must have rear under guards. They are metal bars designed to keep cars from sliding under in a crash with the rear of the truck’s trailer.

However, crash tests show most on the road today fail, even at speeds as low as 35 mph.

The 2021 Infrastructure Bill requires upgraded standards for these back bars, but unfortunately does not require that they pass the IIHS’s ToughGuard tests.

Lois Durso (left) and Marianne Karth hold photos of their children who were killed in separate underride crashes involving semi-trucks. (Marianne Karth)

It is a victory for parents pushing lawmakers to make roadways safer for years. Marianne Karth has been one of the biggest names after her family’s tragedy.

Karth, her son and two daughters were in a horrible crash in 2013.

While in Georgia, Karth said their car in the right lane was hit by a truck in the left lane that did not stop in time for slowed traffic.

“That rear underride guard came off, and the truck had hit us and spun us around,” Karth said. “And when we went backward, it’s back of the tractor-trailer ahead of us, the rear underride guard came off and the back of our car went under the truck.”

Her daughters Annaleah, 17, and Mary, 13, were killed.

The scene from a 2013 underride crash that killed 17-year-old Annaleah Karth and her 13-year-old sister, Mary. (Marianne Karth)

Using her heartbreak for motivation, she said stronger rear guards are a step for safer streets, but points out the new infrastructure package doesn’t go far enough.

It appoints a committee to look into side underride guards, but there is still no requirement for them, and we found most trucks do not have them installed.

Karth believes there are solutions like requiring all new trailers to have sturdy guards on the rear and side, plus there are metal kits that mount on an existing trailer.

I know there are solutions. I’ve seen crash tests with my own eyes,” Karth said.

One product, called the AngelWing, weighs about 650 pounds and costs around $3,000 for a standard 53-foot trailer. Crash tests show how the car on top bounces off the side of the trailer instead of going under it like the one without a guard.

The industry has argued side guards are expensive to install and add weight to a truck which ends up costing more in fuel. Plus, some contend these are not effective at highway speeds.

“Despite trucks being just 4% of the vehicles on our highways and two-thirds of the accidents involving trucks being caused by passenger vehicles, the trucking industry still spends $9.5 billion conservatively each year on safety,” said Chris Spear, the president of the American Trucking Associations.

Both Durso and Karth said they will continue to be moms on a mission.

“I am not going to stop until what I know is possible is law,” Karth said.

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

Durso and Karth have a website for more information: StopUnderrides.org.

Vic joins us with some ways experts are making the roadways safer when involved with crashes involving 18-wheelers.

About the Authors:

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