A fatal truck crash near Buffalo in January led New York Senator Charles Schumer to once again call for increased truck safety. Specifically, Schumer is concerned about underride accidents, particularly gruesome accidents that are usually fatal. Schumer and other advocates have repeatedly demanded that federal regulators require semi-trucks to carry underride guards to prevent such accidents. So far, little action has been taken regarding their concerns making future underride accidents an inevitability.
22-Vehicle Collision in Buffalo Truck Crash
On January 2, 2018, at around 2:30 p.m., Edward “Eto” Torres was driving on the New York State Thruway near Exit 49 in wind-swept snow when the tractor-trailer he was following stopped suddenly for an accident further up the road. Torres, who had been in Buffalo to see his two-year-old granddaughter and was headed to work, was not able to stop in time and crashed into the back of the truck.
More than 20 vehicles were ultimately involved in the pile-up on I-90 East and two people, including Torres, were taken to the hospital with critical injuries. Torres later died. First responders called the Buffalo truck crash a “Mass Casualty Incident” in response to the number of vehicles involved.
Following Torres’ death, his family released a statement remembering him as the father of three grown children and two grandchildren.
“Ed was a hard working man that loved fiercely. His ability to maintain close relationships with friends and family that distance and time could not separate was incredible.”
The accident resulted in all lanes between exits 50 and 48A being closed for hours. Officials were dispatched to perform welfare checks on those people affected by the closures and buses were provided to take motorists to warming shelters.
Torres’ Family Joins Schumer in Calling for Increased Truck Safety
Along with Schumer, Torres’ family called on the federal government to strengthen regulations related to underride guards on trucks.
“Underride guards are a proven technology that will save lives and make our roads safer,” Schumer said. “We all know the roads can be treacherous during a WNY snowstorm. Drivers trying to get to work or bring their children to school should not have to worry about truck safety standards that are lacking.”
Schumer and other politicians are pushing for approval of bipartisan legislation called the Stop Underrides Act of 2017.
Stop Underrides Act of 2017
The Stop Underrides Act of 2017 (H.R. 4622) was introduced in response to what politicians and safety advocates say is an unreasonably high number of preventable deaths and injuries linked to underride truck crashes. According to text in the legislation, Congress finds that underride crashes are a “significant public health and safety threat.”
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that hundreds of preventable fatalities and life-threatening injuries have occurred as a result of underride crashes.”
The legislation would require that the rear underride guard standard be updated to increase their effectiveness, that trucks carry side and front underride guards, and that all large trucks be regularly checked to ensure compliance with the laws.
Underride Crashes Particularly Gruesome
Underride crashes occur when a smaller passenger vehicle collides with a semi-truck, and all or part of the passenger vehicle becomes wedged or trapped under the truck. These accidents can be particularly gruesome because of the severe, usually fatal injuries sustained by people in the passenger vehicle.
Underride guards are designed to prevent passenger vehicles from slipping beneath the larger tractor-trailer, but so far regulations only require rear underride guards. Side underride guards, which would prevent vehicles from becoming trapped in a side crash, are not required. Furthermore, experts say most rear underride guards aren’t effective at preventing rear underride accidents.
Side underride accidents are just as fatal as rear underride accidents, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In data analyzed by that organization, in 2015, 301 of the 1,542 passenger vehicle occupants who died in a crash with a tractor-trailer died in a side crash. In the same span, 292 people died in a rear crash with a tractor-trailer. Although this information does not account for how many died in underride crashes specifically, the IIHS estimates that approximately half of fatal crashes involving semi-trucks and passenger vehicles are underride crashes.
Future Underride Crashes Inevitable
Unfortunately for many motorists like Torres, movement on underride guard recommendations has been slow, and the trucking industry has pushed back against stricter regulations. That hasn’t stopped Schumer and others, who say the legislation is necessary.
“The devastation of crashes like these—a result of a gap in truck safety standards—could be reduced. The reality is underride guards on trucks can help save lives,” Schumer said.
U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Congressmen Steve Cohen and Mark DeSaulnier introduced the Stop Underrides Act of 2017 in memory of the thousands of people whose lives were affected by underride crashes. When they introduced the legislation, they noted that safety features in passenger vehicles cannot protect vehicle occupants from severe injuries. Until underride guard legislation is updated, future underride crashes are inevitable.