PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing a new rule that will require stronger underride guards be installed semi's and tractor trailers.
The guards, seen on the back of semi-trucks, are designed to keep drivers and passengers from sliding underneath a truck in the event of a rear-end collision.
However, these standards have proven to be weak with underride guards often collapsing upon impact.
In 2001, Riviera Beach Police Officer Donald Eberhardt Jr, was killed instantly when his patrol car rear-ended a parked semi. The top half of his car was ripped off.
At the time of the crash, Eberhardt was traveling 33 miles per hour.
"All I see is him underneath that truck," his wife told the Contact 5 Investigators when she spoke about her husband's death in 2012.
NHTSA estimates 400 people die each year from crashing into the back of a semi-truck.
The new U.S. standards, which match current Canadian standards, would require underride guards be able to withstand impacts from crashes at 35 miles per hour, versus the current 30 mile per hour standard.
“Robust trailer rear impact guards can significantly reduce the risk of death or injury to vehicle occupants in the event of a crash into the rear of a trailer or semitrailer,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “We’re always looking at ways to safeguard the motoring public, and today’s announcement moves us forward in our mission.”
But not everyone is seeing NHTSA proposal as the final answer to providing the best protection for consumers on this issue.
"Many of the trailer manufacturers are already meeting Canadian standards, but IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Research) has shown that this is still not adequate to prevent underride in many crash scenarios--particularly offset crashes," said Marianne Karth, a North Carolina mother who lost two daughters in a truck crash in 2013. Since her daughters' death, Karth has dedicated herself to improving truck underride safety standards. She petitioned NHTSA for stronger guard protection.
"It is an important and necessary and exciting step for NHTSA to be acknowledging the need for stronger guards and proposing an improved guard, but so much more can be done and we do not want it to stop at this," she told the Contact 5 Investigators.
NHTSA will spend the next two months hearing public comment before adopting this proposal as a new regulation.