Reducing ‘underrides’: Bill aims to make collisions with semis safer

For some, the grief is new. For others, it’s more than decades old. But they all agree the deaths of their loved ones could have been easily prevented.

“It wasn’t the crash that killed them. It was the underride,” said Marianne Karth, referring to when a vehicle slides under a tractor-trailer in a collision.

For Karth, it happened on May 4, 2013. Her daughters, AnnaLeah and Mary, were in the back seat as she drove, with her son beside her in the front seat, on Interstate 20 in Georgia.

“[We] came upon slowed traffic and slowed down. A truck driver did not. He hit us. It spun us around and we went backwards into the back of a tractor-trailer ahead of us. AnnaLeah and Mary were sitting in the backseat and as a result they died from that,” Karth said.

Over 6,000 people have died from underride accidents between 1994 and 2018. But new legislation could prevent such tragedies.

The federal Stop Underrides Act would require all new trailers, semi-trailers and single-unit trucks to be equipped with side guards and front guards. It would also change the current requirements to mandate rear, side and front underride guards on single-unit trucks.

If the legislation passes, equipping trucks with the guards could be costly, especially for companies with multiple trucks. One company selling the guards charges nearly $3,000 for a set.

Advocates for the guards say, however, that price comes out to less than $1 a day over the life of their use, and many lives could be saved because of them.

The Stop Underrides Act was introduced in the Senate on Thursday by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. On Monday, it was introduced in the House by Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif..

Karth, who spoke in support of the legislation during a Zoom news conference on Monday, said that currently, the bottom of the body of a truck “is right about where the head and torso of passengers are” in a typical collision.

“So, when there’s a collision, the car can easily slide under,” she said.

Eric Hein also spoke at Monday’s news conference. In 2015, his 16-year-old son Riley “was driving to high school in the morning and a semi truck ran his car off the road, where he bounced off of a concrete embankment and came back under the semi trailer in an underride collision,” he said.

If there had been an underride guard, Hein said, Riley would have bounced off and that would be the end of the story. But there wasn’t.

“His car was dragged for a half-mile and it burst into flames and Riley burned to death,” said Hein. “It was confirmed by the coroner that he had no physical injuries. So, if an underride guard had been installed on the trailer, it would have resulted in a fender-bender and Riley would still be alive today.”

Hein’s family sued the trucking company and the trailer manufacturer and was awarded $42 million.

Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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