Coalition calls for an end of governments 25-year "disgraceful delay"on killer rear impact guards
Washington, D.C. (April 30,1992)---A coalition of highway and vehicle safety advocates today called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to end "a quarter century of disgraceful delay and neglect" on a proposed regulation to require life-saving "rear impact guards" on trucks and trailers.
Between 1980-1990, more than 5,000 car occupants were killed and 180,000 others were injured in rear impact crashes with big trucks in the United States. Many of these crashes involved "truck underride." Because trucks are higher than cars, a passenger vehicle can run underneath a truck or it’s trailer. The truck can act like a guillotine, sheering off or crushing the car’s passenger compartment which results in violent death and devastating injury.
NHTSA proposed "rear impact guard" regulations in 1969, 1970, and 1981 that were never acted upon. This past January, the agency issued another proposal which safety experts say is "the worst so far." The public has until June 8 to submit comments to NHTSA on the proposal.
Victims of "truck underride" crashes joined with safety leaders at a news conference outside U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters here to launch a campaign to "Stop the Roving Guillotines"
The safety coalition called on the American public to urge NHTSA to finally require that trucks and trailers be equipped with safer energy-absorbing rear guards mounted low to the ground (16 inches) to protect car occupants from death and injury in rear-impact crashes.
This safety technology is proven and well-known. These guards, for instance, are in use today in Great Britain where they cost only about $200(U.S.). However, for nearly 25 years, NHTSA has repeatedly delayed action on this safety standard. The trucking industry has lobbied successfully on every occasion to block any new "rear-impact guard" standard to protect motorists from needless death and injury.
"The federal government’s quarter century of delay and neglect has been, in effect, a death sentence for thousands of Americans," said Joan Claybrook, Co-Chair of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), President of Public Citizen and a former NHTSA Administrator.
If government is supposed to be "kinder and gentler’ today, " Claybrook added, ""the American people must raise a fuss with government leaders that this standard is not being met as the carnage involving big trucks continues on our highways.
Most trucks and trailers today are equipped with ineffective and dangerous rear "guards." Required by an outdated regulation set by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)in 1953, these guards are too high for most modern passenger vehicles and they are made either too weak or too rigid.
An ICC guard is almost always mounted too high, about 25 to 30 inches above the ground. When a passenger vehicle strikes one of these cheap, steel guards, two things can happen: if the guard is weak and bendable, it allows the smaller vehicle to underride the truck. If the guard is too strong or rigid, however, it slashes through the windshield and rips into the occupants, sometimes decapitating them.
In 1967, screen star Jayne Mansfield was decapitated in a truck "rear underride" collision that first drew National attention to the dangers of rear impact crashes with big trucks.
NHTSA admits that it’s latest proposal will prevent very few deaths and injuries each year: Only about 9 to 19 fatalities prevented of more than 500 deaths and about 76 to 114 injuries avoided of 18,000 injuries from rear crashes with trucks. The NHTSA plan also will only reduce the number of serious truck underride crashes by 18-27 percent.
The NHTSA guard can be so weak that it will fail completely in a low-speed crash. NHTSA also will allow it to be made so rigid that it can continue slash through the passenger compartments of many cars. The NHTSA guards will be 22 inches high, even though this will allow virtually all cars to still underride it.
Also, the proposed NHTSA regulation will exempt most trucks and trailers from having even this inadequate guard installed. Most trucks will continue to have the dangerous ICC "guillotine guard" despite it’s record as a killer for nearly 40 years.
"We are hearing from many people across the country who simply want to know why our government has allowed the deaths and injuries to mount unabated year-in and year-out," Claybrook said. "Sadly, the only answer I have is that corporate greed has taken precedence over the public interest."
The safety coalition has opened a toll-free hotline (1-800-CRASH12) to provide information to citizens about the "truck underride" problem. In advance of the June 8 public commenting period deadline, the coalition is waging a letter-writing campaign calling for new trucks and trailers to be equipped with the state-of-the-art rear guard.
Two victims of "truck underride" crashes addressed the news conference. In December 1989, Nancy Winkelman, 27, was involved in a "truck underride" crash with a tractor trailer in her hometown of Bloomington, Minnesota, which amputated her lower jaw and part of her tongue.
After dozens of surgeries and many more medical procedures awaiting her in the future, Nancy Winkelman hopes for the day when she can return to work full time, eat normally, converse freely and be understood.
In February 1986, Stephen Murray, 25, of Melbourne, Florida, was riding in a pick up truck that crashed into the back of a single unit flat bed truck with no rear guard. Murray suffered serious brain injury in the crash. He can no longer read, write or drive, and he has speech impairment. The type of truck involved in his crash would be exempt under NHTSA’s proposed regulation.
Claybrook and the "truck underride" victims were joined today by other representatives of the safety coalition: Dr. Gerald Donaldson, CRASH co-chair and Assistant Director for Highway Safety, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety; Ben Kelley, President, Institute for Injury Reduction and Board Member, CRASH; Timothy Hoyt, Safety Director, Nationwide Insurance Company and Chairman, Program Committee, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety; and John Toerge, M.D., Chairman, Division on Rehabilitative Medicine, National Rehabilitation Hospital, Washington D.C.
The "Stop the Roving Guillotines" coalition campaign is supported by the following national organizations:
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Insurance Association, the Center for Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, the Consumer Confederation of America, the Institute for Injury Reduction, the National Association for Governors’ Highway Safety Representatives, the National Head Injury Foundation, Public Citizen, and the Trauma Foundation.