In an admirable bipartisan effort from both sides of the aisle, legislators have recently come together to back a bill that could increase the safety of those who share the highways with 18-wheelers. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D- N.Y.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as well as Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) have introduced the Stop Underrides Act of 2017 in the Senate (S.2219) and the House (H.R.4622) just before the winter break, a bill that would require special guards to be fitted to the sides of trucks which would prevent cars from getting pulled under trailers in the event of a collision. The bill also calls to strengthen rear underride guards—a safety measure that has been mandatory on trailers since 1953, but not updated since 1998.
For many, an update to federal safety regulations has been a long time coming. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 4,000 people were killed in underride crashes in the 20-year period between 1994 and 2014—1,530 of which were specifically side crashes. Rep. DeSaulnier added to these facts by stating, “Over 300 people are killed each year from truck underride collisions, and these collisions are often underreported.” Yet even with such startling statistics in favor of such a mandate, there is opposition from commercial transport companies and truck drivers themselves. Some point to the additional 1,600 pounds that substantial side skirts might add to the vehicles weight; others talk about the cost of as much as $8,000 per truck for the added protection. Yet, such issues seem small in comparison to the loss of life that some have suffered.
Two women who are very much in favor of the new updates are Marianne Karth and Lois Durso—both suffered the devastating loss of children as the result of an underride crash with a tractor trailer. While terrible tragedies, the individual events actually spurred the two to work together in advocating for regulatory reform that would mandate the use of accident-preventing side and rear guards. In fact, the two co-authored a legislative draft that they dubbed the Roya, AnnaLeah & Mary Comprehensive Underride Protection Act of 2017—named after their daughters whose lives were tragically cut short—which they then submitted to the office of Sen. Gillibrand. The basic structure of the draft went on to set the foundation of the current bill now before Congress.
With fellow lawmakers and members of the Karth and Durso families by her side, Sen. Gillibrand introduced the bill for consideration in 2018 during the second session of the 115th Congress while stating, “We require seatbelts, we require all these other safety standards, weight standards—all of it for safety reasons—and now with the lives of so many loved ones lost, its time for the industry to listen.”