“America’s Dangerous Trucks”:
Is the NHTSA able to Protect Us?

Every year, hundreds of people die in horrific crashes involving smaller vehicles that slide under large trucks, slicing off the top like a knife through butter. These kinds of accidents are called underride crashes, and they are one of the deadliest types of collisions on the road.

But despite decades of efforts by federal regulators, safety advocates and crash victims’ families, the trucking industry has successfully resisted mandatory safety standards that could prevent or reduce the severity of these crashes.

A new documentary by Frontline and ProPublica, “America’s Dangerous Trucks”, reveals how industry lobbyists have wielded their influence and money to block or weaken proposed rules that would have required stronger rear and side guards on trucks, as well as better brakes, tires, and lighting.

The documentary also exposes how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the government agency responsible for overseeing truck safety, has failed to act on its own research and recommendations, and has been heavily influenced by the industry it was meant to regulate.

The documentary features interviews with former NHTSA officials, trucking industry representatives, and families of underride crash victims, who share their stories of grief, frustration, and activism.

One of them is Marianne Karth, who lost two of her daughters, AnnaLeah and Mary, in a 2013 underride crash in Georgia. She has since become a leading advocate for underride protection legislation, and has collected more than 20,000 signatures on a petition to Congress.

Another is Lois Durso, who lost her daughter Roya in a 2004 underride crash in Indiana. Her cause is pushing for stronger side guards on trucks, which are common in Europe, but not required in the U.S.

The documentary also shows leaked documents and internal emails that reveal how NHTSA officials have been pressured by the trucking industry and its allies in Congress to delay or drop proposed rules, even when they possessed direct evidence that they would save lives and prevent injuries.

For example, in 2015, NHTSA proposed a rule to upgrade the rear guard standard for trucks, which had not been updated since 1998. The rule was based on a study that found that stronger rear guards could prevent 95% of underride deaths. But after lobbying from the trucking industry, which argued that the rule was too costly and burdensome, NHTSA withdrew the proposal in 2017.

Similarly, in 2017, NHTSA issued a report that recommended requiring side guards on trucks, which could prevent up to 200 deaths per year. But the agency never followed up with a rulemaking process, and instead said it needed more research.

The documentary further reveals how the trucking industry has used campaign contributions and political connections to influence lawmakers who oversee NHTSA’s budget and policies. For example, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, has received more than $1 million from the trucking industry since 1990. He also inserted language into spending bills that restricts NHTSA’s ability to regulate truck safety.

The documentary raises questions about whether NHTSA is fulfilling its mission to protect the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from motor vehicles. It also highlights the human cost of underride crashes, and the need for more accountability and transparency from both the industry and the government.

“America’s Dangerous Trucks” is a must-watch for anyone who cares about road safety. You can watch it online at  https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/documentary/americas-dangerous-trucks/.


We at the Herd Law Firm, PLLC, are drivers and motorcycle riders, too! We support drivers, bikers and motorcyclists injured on the road, and have successfully represented such victims seeking the assistance and compensation they so need and deserve.


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