Contact 5 Special Report: Lawmaker calls truck threat 'a serious problem'

Congressman Ted Deutch to contact feds

They are frightening images of what can happen when big trucks and little cars collide.  

A typical scene looks something like this: Cars underneath the back of semi-trucks, hoods peeled back and car roofs shattered to pieces. Under ride accidents kill roughly 400 people every year and injure 5,000 more.

But under ride guards were designed to keep these accidents from turning deadly.

"You're right. It's, it's gruesome. The report raises a really important issue,"  said Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton).

Deutch is referring to a Contact 5 Investigation that showed just how gruesome these accidents can be and why these under ride guards aren't always holding up.

"After the accident, it's hard," said Sieni Eberhardt.

It's been 11 years since a weak under ride guard left this Palm Beach County resident, a widow.

"The last time I saw him, he was wearing his uniform to for work that day."

Riviera Beach police officer, Donald Eberhardt Jr. was driving no more than 33 miles per hour when he crashed into the back of a semi illegally parked on Blue Heron Boulevard. The impact crushed the truck's under ride guard, Eberhardt's mustang and the father of two.

"All I see is him under that truck," she said.

John Wallace of Orlando, lived to tell his story about the under ride guard that also didn't hold up when, a few months ago, he fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed into the back of a semi truck.

"I got on the 429 and that's the last thing I remember," he said.

Today, Wallace has no feeling in parts of his cheek, he wears a patch over one eye and metal plates are part of his recovery from a fractured skull.

Federal law requires under ride guards on most big trucks, but recently, the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety took the issue of under ride guards head on, when researchers from the Institute conducted a series of tests that showed under ride guards that meet current U.S. standards aren't strong enough.

In one crash test, a Chevy Malibu collided into the back of a semi, equipped with an under ride guard that is fully compliant with current U.S. standards.  In that test, the collision caused the roof of the car to peel back, cutting the car in half.

In another test, the a car crashed into the back of a truck equipped with an under ride guard that meets current Canadian standards, which require guards to be stronger and more energy absorbent.

"The occupants of this vehicle would have been able to walk away with very minor injuries," said Matthew Brumbelow, senior research engineer with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Contact 5 Investigators asked Congressman Deutch why not just adopt Canadian standards for under ride guards.

"What I'm doing is sending a letter to the Secretary of Transportation, Secretary Ray LaHood and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration encouraging them to revisit these standards to make sure they are tough enough."

V iew the letter Congressman Deutch sent to Secretary LaHood by clicking here.

It's efforts to stop a problem that can leave scars on victims and the families they leave behind.

"He wasn't there for me or my kids," said a tearful Sieni Eberhardt.

"We know that there's a problem when more than 400 Americans lose their lives in these gruesome accidents and more than 5000 Americans are injured. We know that this is a serious problem and there's no time to waste," said Congressman Deutch.

There is no timeline on when any changes to these under ride guards might be adopted.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently conducting field tests to determine what, if any, standards can be improved.

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