Grieving parents break down after crash test shows life-saving technology

Crash test dummy survives the simulation at IIHS. Photo: Erin Spaht, WUSA9
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Families witnessed a crash test demonstrating potentially life-saving technology that they believed, could have saved their children's lives. 

The crash test organized by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed the audience a way to prevent deadly crashes with tractor trailers.  

That’s a crushing reality for Marianne Karth and Lois Durso. They both have children who died in underride accidents, when their cars hit and got pinned underneath a tractor trailer.

“It happens in an instant,” Karth said. “In an instant somebody could die. In this instance somebody would be saved.”

RELATED: Mothers fight for tougher tractor trailers laws after daughters die in underride crashes

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Karth and Durso had watched a Chevy Malibu hit the side of a tractor trailer at 40 miles per hour, in a controlled test at IIHS. 

The Chevy Malibu was stopped by a side guard attached to the trailer known as an “Angel Wing,” manufactured by a company called Air Flow Deflector. Without the side guard, the car would have crashed and gotten pinned underneath the tractor trailer. 

Moments after impact, WUSA9 Investigative Reporter Eric Flack asked Durso: If the “Angel Wing” was used by the tractor trailer her daughter Roya hit, would she still be alive?" 

Durso, choked up, and couldn’t answer.

There's nothing to say when you think what you witnessed, in the crash test, is proof your child didn’t have to die.

“It’s heartbreaking because, between us, we’ve lost our children” said Laurie Higginbotham. Her son, Michael, died in a side underride accident in 2014.

“They could have done something to save them,” said Higginbotham. 

RELATED: 'Big Rigs, Big Risks' - WUSA9 Underride Crash Series

Karth and Durso have spent months lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill for new laws that would require side guards and stronger rear guards on all tractor trailers. They believe the new laws would save the lives of hundreds of people who die in underride accidents every year.

RELATED: 'Hall of Crashes' may hold the key to safer cars and roads

Many of those grieving families were on hand for Tuesday’s crash test at IIHS, which was part of a truck underride roundtable. It included representatives of the truck trailer industry.

For months, WUSA9's Special Assignment Unit had been requesting for an on-camera interview with Jeff Simms, President of the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association. Simms spoke at the summit. 

“There’s a lot of operational issues you have to consider,” Simms said. “There’s all kind stuff you have to consider. The different configurations of the trailers, the way the trailers are used. High centering, these guards are pretty low so when you’re going over train tracks they might get caught.”

Simms also said the $3,900, 800-pound “Angel Wing” side guards would force trucking companies to remove payload and add even more tractor trailers on the road to make up the financial loss.

Simms said that will lead to a rise in tractor trailer related deaths of all types, erasing any overall safety benefit.

David Zuby, Chief Research Officer for IIHS, disagrees.

“It’s far from clear that requiring this level of protection will lead to such a large increase in truck travel that you wash out the benefits of carrying the protection,” Zuby said.

Simms offered his condolences to the families who lost loved ones in underride accidents with tractor trailers.

“I am sorry for their loss, but this may or may not be the answer,” Simms said. “It’s hard to tell right now.”

But others said the answer couldn’t be more clear.

“I always say that it’s bittersweet,” Karth said of the successful crash test. “Thankful, and excited. But there’s still that pain and that frustration that it wasn’t done before.”

“But I know because of [the side guard technology] another mother won’t be standing here like we are,” Higginbotham said.

A handful of senators and congressmen have called for new laws that would require side guards, and stronger rear guards on tractor trailers.

But the legislation has yet to be filed. Sources say that could happen after Congress returns from its summer recess.

Meanwhile, Karth and Durso have drafted their own underride legislation but they're still looking for a lawmaker to sponsor it. It's called the RAMCUP Act of 2017. To read it click here.