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Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Marco Rubio introduce bill to prevent truck underride deaths

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is pushing ahead with a third try at legislation to mandate safety requirements for big rigs that have the potential to save hundreds of lives a year.

This morning, Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio will reintroduce the Stop Underrides Act for the third time. The bill would require guards on the sides and front of all new tractor trailers and update safety standards for underride guards on the rear of trucks to protect the drivers around them.

An underride crash can be devastating to people inside a passenger vehicle — especially a sedan or sports car. It occurs when the car slides completely or partially under a large truck or a semi-trailer during a crash. In 2019 alone, more than 850 people died in crashes with the side or rear of a semi, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS).  

IIHS estimates 80% of the nearly 7,000 deaths from crashes with the side or rear of a big rig involved some kind of underride where a car ends up under the semi or its trailer.  

Even at low speeds these crashes can be catastrophic because the trailer's undercarriage can tear through the passenger cabin resulting in severe head and neck injuries, including decapitation. 

"This bill would finally enact critical, commonsense changes that would save lives on our roads. Requiring effective truck underride guards is one of the best and easiest solutions to prevent horrific underride accidents and protect passengers from being killed when a car collides with a tractor-trailer," Gillibrand said. 

Side underride guards on trucks have been required by the European Union since 2003, but are not mandatory on U.S. roads.  A 2012 IIHS study found strong side underride guards may potentially reduce injury risk in about three-fourths of cases where a passenger vehicle occupant sustained a serious injury from an impact with the side of a large truck. In 2017, the Institute found aftermarket side underride guards added to a tractor-trailer prevented a mid-size car from sliding underneath the trailer in 35- and 40-mile-per-hour crash tests.

"Hundreds of individuals across the nation are lost to underride collisions every year, with Florida unfortunately ranking among the top states for reported fatalities," Rubio said. "As a parent with kids of driving age, I look forward to working in a bipartisan fashion to advance efforts to make our roads safer."

Marianne Karth has been working with Gillibrand and Tennessee Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen since 2017 to pass a law requiring underride guards after her daughters AnnaLeah and Mary were killed in a 2013 crash. Karth and her three youngest children were driving from North Carolina to Texas to celebrate four family college graduations and a wedding. In Georgia, their car was hit from behind, sending it spinning, before the same truck hit their car again — forcing the rear of Karth's car under the tractor trailer. The two girls were in the backseat.  Marianne and her son both in the front seats were injured but survived. 

"I can't bear that they are not here anymore," Karth told CBS News in late 2017, when the measure was first introduced. "Their lives were just abruptly ended, they didn't set out that day knowing that their lives were going to be over."

Safety advocates support the legislation, but critics maintain the weight of the new guards could force truckers to reduce their payloads, which could lead to more trucks on the road.   

Karth believes if underride guards had been in place, her daughters would be alive today.

"I know that truck crashes can be survivable," she said. 

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