Passengers in cars may be decapitated if their vehicles go under the rear of heavy-duty trailer trucks with guards that meet U.S. rules designed to prevent severe injuries, a safety group said, citing crash tests.
The tests show stronger rules are needed, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said in a report released today. Trailers made to Canadian specifications were less likely to cause catastrophic injuries, the Arlington, Virginia-based group said.
“Damage to the cars in some of these tests was so devastating that it’s hard to watch the footage without wincing,” Adrian Lund, president of the insurance group, said in a statement. “If these had been real-world crashes there would be no survivors.”
Dummies were decapitated in three of six tests conducted, the institute said.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2009 identified its car-truck underride regulations, adopted in 1996 and 1998, as ones that needed improvement, agency administrator David Strickland said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
Four hundred nineteen car occupants were killed in 2007 and 352 in 2008 in crashes involving passenger vehicles striking the rear of large trucks, according to NHTSA data.
The lethality of car-truck crashes has been a concern since the 1970s, the insurance institute said. The latest study came after researchers wanted to know why fatalities weren’t declining faster, given improvements like advanced air bags and stronger safety cages, Lund said.
Almost 80 percent of crashes involving cars rear-ending trucks involved significant amounts of underride, according to the federal Large Truck Crash Causation study, based on fatality and injury data from 2001 through 2003, even after NHTSA required stronger structures to be lowered to 22 inches off the ground.
NHTSA doesn’t require the guards to be tested on trailers themselves, which has led to weaknesses, Lund said in an interview. Guards can fail if hardware attaching them to the trailer isn’t strong enough to withstand impact, he said. The tests underscore that guards installed to U.S. standards aren’t holding up in the real world, Lund said.
“There’s no demonstrating that this actually works as installed,” he said. “Part of the failure is how it’s attached to the truck, and maybe the truck itself fails.”
NHTSA expects to complete its review of the regulation in 2012, Strickland said in his statement.
“As a result of NHTSA’s 2009 review, the agency initiated an in-depth field analysis to deter how we can improve current federal motor vehicle safety standard requirements,” Strickland said.
Trailers made by Hyundai Translead Inc., a subsidiary of Seoul-based Hyundai Motor Co., to meet U.S. standards alone showed the most problems, he said. A trailer made by Vanguard National Trailer Corp. in Monon, Indiana, was also tested. It performed better than the Hyundai trailer but not as well as the one from Wabash.
Hyundai Motor spokesman Miles Johnson and Vanguard National spokesman Steve Roberts didn’t have any immediate comments. Wabash National spokeswoman Allison Henk didn’t respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
The institute’s tests were performed with the Chevrolet Malibu sedan, made by General Motors Co. The Malibu was selected for crash-test performances that earned it five-star ratings from NHTSA and a “top safety pick” from the insurance institute.
The Malibu was used to show that even vehicles that hold up well in other kinds of frontal crashes have difficulty withstanding underride impacts,the group said.
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