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Indiana mother who lost daughter pushes for tougher underride guard standards

Stop Underrides Act introduced in Congress
Erin Alexander died in 2018 in an underride crash, according to her mother.
Posted at 5:39 PM, Mar 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-08 17:40:02-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Families are urging Congress to make changes to trucks they say will prevent deaths on Indiana roadways.

Underride guards are the metal barriers on the back of most large trucks designed to keep drivers from sliding underneath during a crash.

But a 2013 investigation by WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney revealed federal standards for underride guards may not be enough to keep motorists safe.

Christina Hammack, of Jeffersonville, misses her daughter Erin Alexander.

“I had a daughter who was incredibly smart and beautiful and connecting,” Hammack said.

Erin died at the age of 22 on May 4, 2018, when a tractor-trailer on a wet highway went sideways over the top of Erin’s car.

"We got that call and our lives were just turned upside down,” Hammack said. “Once I found out how it happened, the horror ensued. It's left us a big hole."

Erin was one of the more than 200 people who die every year in underride crashes.

Now, Hammack and dozens of families are pushing for change. They’re backing the “Stop Underrides Act,” introduced by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, D- N.Y., and Marco Rubio, R- Fla., on March 4.

The legislation would strengthen vehicle safety measures to prevent deadly underride involving passenger vehicle collisions with tractor-trailers and straight trucks.

The Stop Underrides Act would require underride guards on the sides and front of all new trucks and update outdated standards for underride guards on the rear of trucks.

On Monday, March 8, Representatives Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Mark DeSaulnier, D- Calif., will introduce identical legislation in the U.S. House.

This is the third time this legislation has been introduced and families know they have an uphill battle.

"The argument is always about the cost or the logistics," Hammack said.

Critics of the legislation say the focus should be on preventing distracted driving that leads to underride crashes in the first place.

Hammack said that’s not always the case, and that weather and other factors often play a role in underride crashes.

"I hope even in the volatile political world that we can take the time to do something positive," Hammack said.

She is determined to save lives in memory of her daughter.

"I just miss her a lot,” Hammack said.

WRTV is working to get responses from lawmakers as well as the trucking industry.

STATEMENT FROM INDIANA MOTOR TRUCK ASSOCIATION

  • The trucking industry invests approximately $10 billion annually in safety initiatives.
  • We are committed to the goal of accident-free, fatality-free highways
  • The Stop Underrides Act is not based on sufficient science, data or demonstrated overall effectiveness.
  • It disregards other proven technologies such as automatic braking, camera monitoring systems and adaptive turning assist.
  • It ignores the diversity of our industry- trucking is not a one size fits all industry.
  • Mandating underrides on all trailers is estimated to cost nearly $35 billion, which would exceed the industry’s annual net revenue, essentially putting trucking out of business.
  • In 2019 the GAO concluded that more study by the DOT is needed. We support additional research.
  • The testing that has taken place has been on a closed course, well below highway speeds. We have no data from realistic highway scenarios at highway speeds.
  • NHTSA has identified possible unintended consequences such as trailers becoming less flexible due to extra structural supports causing trailers to become disabled creating safety risks to other motorists.
  • Side underrides would not work well with some trailer types. Tank, flatbed, intermodal, etc. due to operational requirements.
  • We believe the most effective improvements to road safety should be directed at preventing the crash from happening in the first place. The Stop Underrides Act focuses on mitigation after the crash has already taken place. Our focus should be on crash avoidance which can be achieved by enhancing vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) connectivity.

"I've proudly cosponsored the STOP Underrides Act in honor of all the Americans we have lost to truck underride accidents," said Congressman Andre Carson, D-Indiana, in a statement to WRTV. "Congress must act now to fix this deadly safety issue in order to save lives. I'll keep working hard to make this bipartisan bill law."

The American Trucking Associations said in 2013 the focus should be on preventing crashes in the first place through driver education and collision avoidance technology in cars and trucks.

"Many studies show that as many as three in four fatalities involving cars and trucks are unintentionally initiated or caused by the driver of the car," said Sean McNally, press secretary for ATA, in an email to WRTV. "Trailers have a significant — as much as 10 years — lifespan, so new regulations would likely take some time to have an impact. In the meantime, we continue to believe the best underride guard in the world cannot prevent a crash and we should focus on preventing crashes as a first step to real safety improvements."

Click here to read a previous statement from the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association.

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