Tractor trailers need to be safer to prevent underride deaths, Gillibrand says

Rochester's Terry Rivet is trapped under a tractor trailer rig during an accident on the thruway last March. Federal legislation targets truck safety devices that don't always work as they should.

Syracuse, N.Y./Washington, D.C. (WHAM) - In March, Terry Rivet was traveling the Thruway near Syracuse when two tractor trailers spun out and jackknifed on black ice just 600 feet in front of his car.

"Simultaneously they hit their brakes," Rivet said. " Someone in front of them had spun out and both went into a fishtail and skids."

Terry's white Buick slid partially under one of the trailer beds; the driver's side of his vehicle crushed in around him.

"We hit the back corner of the truck. The airbags deployed and the hood of the car crumpled back on me," Rivet said. He was trapped in the vehicle for 1 1/2 hours until first responders could cut him free.

Underride crashes - collisions in which a car or SUV slides under a tractor trailer - kill 350 people each year, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. New information suggests devices to prevent these fatal crashes don't work as they should.

"The guard breaks or bends and away allowing a vehicle to slide under it," said Adrian Lund ,President of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). "Our crash standards are not as strong as they could or should be."

IIHS conducts crash tests which show what happens when cars are traveling at relatively slow speeds: 35 miles per hour. The rear guards fail more often than not.

"People have died going only 30 to 35 miles per hour," said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY.) "It's worrisome because it's not about speed; it's about the force when any car hits it at any speed."

Senator Gillibrand has introduced legislation to strengthen standards for rear guards and add them to the front and sides of vehicles. The American Trucking Association supports upgrades to rear guards, but says no one has evaluated whether side guards would be equally effective. The organization says the federal government needs to do more testing before requiring the expensive devices to make sure they will work as intended.

Rivet estimates he was traveling 45 to 50 miles per hour when he struck the back of the trailer rig. Yet it appeared to do its job. Perhaps in part because it was designed by the Stoughton Trailers company in Wisconsin to perform higher than federal standards require.

"If it was less than that bumper or if it didn't have a bumper at all, it would have pushed the entire car back on top of me and I'm sure it would have killed me," Rivet said.

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