Help Us Design the Best Possible Underride Guard

I sent an email out yesterday to the University of Michigan Injury Center–asking them to consider helping to design an underride guard which would provide the best possible protection.

This morning I decided to put out a wider call for assistance — both in expertise and financial backing — for this worthy lifesaving endeavor. Surely we could put our heads together and make this happen! I’d like to see this done to enhance the efforts of NHTSA to develop an improved rule on underride guards.

Let’s stop talking and take some action! Spread the word.


AnnaLeah writing

IMG_4467May 8, 2014 from Kathryn


“I would like to ask that you consider taking on the goal of developing an underride guard design which will prevent vehicles from riding under trucks in rear-impact collisions to a greater extent than the current federal standards provide protection–thereby preventing horrific injuries and unnecessary deaths.

I am a 1979 Health Behavior/Health Education graduate of the University of Michigan School of Public Health and received your recent email with information about the Research Centers, including the Injury Control Research Center. In addition, I am the mother of nine children and was driving the three youngest from North Carolina to Texas on May 4, 2013, to attend four college graduations and the wedding of their older siblings, when a truck hit us twice spinning us around and sending us backward under the tractor trailer in front of us.

AnnaLeah (17) and Mary (13) were in the back seat. AnnaLeah died instantly from mechanical asphyxia and Mary died a few days later from injuries (including severe head trauma, carotid artery dissection, and LeFort fractures of her face) she sustained in the crash. I was in the hospital for almost a week but am totally healed physically, and my 15 year-old son in the front passenger seat had a mild concussion and was released that same day from the Emergency Room. The girls, in the back seat, experienced underride; we did not.

In the days, weeks, and months following that crash, our family discovered many things about truck safety.One of the things which we learned about were underride guards, steel bars on the back of a trailer mandated by federal regulations following the national attention gained by the death of actress Jayne Mansfield due to an underride crash in 1967.

Unfortunately, the specifications have been shown to be inadequate in many circumstances; many of the underride guards on the road today too often fail to prevent underride–whether it be due to the design, installation, or maintenance of the guards. This has been seen both by review of the Large Truck Crash Causation Study and through research done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)–among others.

Following our crash, we initiated an online petition requesting DOT to make improvement in three truck safety areas, including underride guards. After delivering the 11,000+ petitions to DOT in Washington, DC, we met with top administrative officials from FMCSA and NHTSA on May 5, 2014–one year after the crash. We were able to meet for an hour–sharing our concerns and hearing what their plans were relative to our three requests.

After hearing that NHTSA was not able to let us know if they were going to initiate a new rulemaking process on underride guards, my husband Jerry asked several times when we might expect that they would decide whether to go ahead with such a process. Finally, David Friedman, deputy director of NHTSA, replied that we could expect a decision in two months. I then asked him to email me as soon as the decision was made. And he did so–emailing me on July 9, 2014 — almost exactly two months later — to let me know that they had issued a rulemaking to study this issue.

Unfortunately, this is a very lengthy process which is frequently subject to setbacks due to opposition from the trucking industry. In addition, there is controversy about whether the guards could be made “too rigid” and result in unintended consequences due to deceleration forces.

Yet, the IIHS has told us in person that, “It is safer to run into a brick wall than into the back of a truck.” This is due to the fact that if you run into a brick wall with a vehicle equipped with a crush zone, that crush zone is able to go into effect and protect the occupants. However, if a vehicle hits the back of a truck and the underride guard fails, the vehicle goes under the truck so that the passenger compartment is intruded upon and the crush zone (air bags and seat belts) is not allowed to operate as designed.

We have also written letters to trailer manufacturing companies asking them to voluntarily improve their guards–as did Manac, Inc. IIHS has continued to communicate with manufacturers to let them know that they would be glad to test any new designs. They have gotten some response.

The bottom line is that NHTSA is hoping to issue a new rule mid-2015 and whatever they propose, if passed, will likely have an impact on road safety for years to come. It is my hope that there would be cooperative efforts taking place to come up with the best possible protection for travelers so that others will not have to go through what our family has had to and lives will not unnecessarily be abruptly brought to an end.

Please consider how you might be involved in this along with the School of Engineering and whatever other resources could be harnessed. Surely, by working together, we can make a difference.

In memory of AnnaLeah and Mary,

Marianne Karth”

See Underride Research Reports listed by NHTSA :

A Helpful Guide to Understanding the Rear Underride Guard Rulemaking:

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