Tests show disastrous results in semi crashes without side underride guards

(WSMV file photo)

A leading crash investigator says a serious crash in Murfreesboro demonstrates why tractor trailers should be equipped with not only rear underride guards, but also side underride guards.

Since 2011, the Channel 4 I-Team has been investigating how rear underride guards can fail and why families are pushing for stronger guard protections to save lives.

Now, following fatal crashes due to drivers sliding underneath the side of tractor trailers, there is a new push to also require side underride guards.

On May 8, Murfreesboro police say a 2012 Nissan Maxima slid underneath a semi on South Church Street and Joe B. Johnson Parkway.

Both the Maxima’s driver, 31-year-old Stephen Shepard, and passenger, 42-year-old Michael Gamble, were taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Vanderbilt reports Shepard is in stable condition, but police say at last check, Gamble was in critical condition.

Video from Air4 showed that the front end of the car, all the way till the back seat, was crushed in the accident.

Just two days after the crash, in a previously scheduled release, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released their test results of cars sliding into side underride guards.

The videos show how cars that slid underneath semis without the guards were crushed, their dummies in the driver’s seat were hit straight on.

But when cars hit the side underride guard, the drivers were untouched by the semi.

Lt. Don Fanning, who is investigating the Murfreesboro crash, saw the IIHS videos and was stunned at the similarities.

“What you see here is absolutely typical of what these crashes really look like if you have a trailer that doesn't have underride protection,” Fanning said.

The semi involved in Monday’s crash did not have a side underride guard, and it isn’t required to have it either.

Federal law does require that tractor trailers have read underride guards.

Families of victims and crash scene investigators believe the side underride guards are essential to preventing deaths, but acknowledge trucking companies would have to pay for them.

“It's a lot of money and investment that somebody's got to fit the bill for,” Fanning said.

The Channel 4 I-Team obtained a letter, sent last year from the Truck Trailer Manufacturer’s Association to NHTSA about the side underride guards, reading in part, “TTMA believes the customer demand is non-existent, due, in part, to the relatively low frequency of side underride accidents and the significant added cost.”

According to the IIHS, in 2015, there 2,243 fatal car crashes were a driver struck the back of a semi, and 301 fatal accidents where a vehicle struck the side of the tractor trailer.

But that federal data isn’t clear enough to show in all those cases how many vehicles actually slid underneath the vehicle.

Copyright 2017 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the News4 I-Team's Chief Investigative Reporter. He has won multiple Midsouth Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Awards.

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