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NTSB recommendations could make commercial trucks safer

Recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board could make commercial trucks and our roads safer.

Recommendations recently made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) could dramatically improve the safety of the commercial trucks on our nation's roads. The recommendations - made in early April, 2014 - are part of a letter and report sent by the NTSB to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urging action to lessen the chances of catastrophic accidents involving large trucks (like semis, tractor trailers, 18-wheelers and delivery vehicles) and vulnerable passers-by in passenger vehicles, on motorcycles, on bicycles or on foot.

Blind spots

The first of the NTSB's recommendations concerns the issue of "blind spot mitigation." It is common knowledge that tractor trailers and semi trucks have a number of blind spots, particularly directly in front of the truck's cab, alongside both the driver and passenger sides of the truck and trailer and directly behind. Other vehicles are at risk in these blind spots due to the disparity in size between them and the trucks, but, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians - who are all unprotected from the impact - can easily be killed if the truck driver doesn't see them.

The NHTSA has taken steps to alleviate the blind spot issue on passenger vehicles, requiring that all new vehicles be equipped with back-up cameras by 2018, but no such regulation applies to large trucks or trailers. Alleviating the blind spots alone could save hundreds of lives; the NTSB reports that 940 pedestrians and cyclists were hit and killed by large trucks between 2005 and 2009.

Under-ride protection

The NTSB's next recommendations deal with the issue of under-ride protection. Because tractor trailers have huge tires to support the loads being carried, the deck of these trailers is usually high above the road surface. When trucks and passenger vehicles collide, it is possible for the smaller vehicle to slide underneath the trailer deck, something known as "under-riding." The heavy steel framework of the trailer deck can tear right through the body of a car, causing severe injuries or deaths to the occupants.

The NTSB suggests that a modification of the design of these trailers to make under-ride less likely on both the sides of the trailer and in the rear will prevent many of these serious, sometimes fatal, accidents.

Trailer crash data collection

Though the NTSB does expressly recommend that the design of commercial trailers be changed, some of their evidence in support of that recommendation is anecdotal. Why? Because the NHTSA doesn't expressly require the collecting of information about trailers involved in crashes, instead just gathering data about the passenger vehicles and tractors (the area where the driver sits and/or sleeps). By forcing police agencies and other investigative authorities to collect make, model and serial numbers of the trailers as well, regulators will be in a better position to judge what types of trailer designs are more likely to result in under-ride in a collision.

In the meantime

Since these recommendations from the NTSB are brand new and are only recommendations (without regulatory authority, the NTSB can only suggest that the NHTSA make changes), there is no way to yet tell if they will have any impact in lowering the number of truck accident injuries each year. In the meantime, there are many rules already governing the operation and maintenance of commercial trucks that, if violated, can result in crashes. If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, consult a personal injury attorney in your area to hold the at-fault parties accountable for their actions.

Keywords: truck accidents, semi-truck accidents, 18-wheeler accidents, commercial vehicle accidents