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Trucking safety bill could finally lead to new underride regulations

The Stop Underrides Act was introduced for the third time on Capitol Hill Thursday.

WASHINGTON — Legislators on Capitol Hill announced Thursday that they were making another attempt at passing laws to protect drivers from a problem that has caused heartbreak on our highways. 

This is the third time lawmakers have introduced legislation known as "The Stop Underrides Act." The bill, first introduced in 2017, would add new safety requirements to tractor-trailers aimed at stopping horrific crashes known as underride accidents.

Families who have spent years fighting for the changes are hoping this time the potentially life-saving laws will finally pass.

“I mean, that's always been the motivating force behind what we're doing is that we want to make sure that other people don't die in the same way our children did,” Lois Durso, whose daughter Roya was killed in an underride accident on an Indiana highway in 2004, said. 

Marianne Karths’ young daughters, Mary and AnnaLeah, died in an underride accident on a Georgia interstate about a decade later.

“It's very hard to continue to see crashes every week and see new families that are facing grief they never imagined that they would be facing and to know that it could be it could have been prevented,” Karth said.

WUSA9 first introduced you to these grieving moms in 2017 in WUSA9’s investigative series "Big Rigs, Big Risks" as they fought for new laws to protect against underride accidents.

Underride accidents are crashes that are so violent, caskets of victims often stay closed at funerals. While exact numbers aren’t tracked, the trucking industry acknowledged in a lawsuit that at least 200 people die in side-underride crashes every year. The number of rear-underride deaths is estimated to be even greater, although safety advocates argue even those deaths are underreported.

In the midst of WUSA9’s series of reports, Sens. Kirstin Gillibrand and Marco Rubio introduced bipartisan legislation that would strengthen standards on rear guards, which are already required by law, and require underride guards on the sides and fronts of tractor-trailers, currently not required by law.

But after two failed attempts to get the bill passed, underride safety advocates have made a major concession they hope will finally push the law through on this third try. The new underride standards would only be required on the roughly 300,000 newly built tractor-trailers every year, not the millions already on the road.

“It's not something I would want to do,” Karth said. “But we are making that concession in hopes of getting some regulations on the book and moving forward.”

Durso said families pushing for the upgraded safety standards did not expect getting the law passed to be easy.

“And we just keep moving forward,” Durso said. “But we are seeing results.”

The trucking industry has opposed the proposed safety changes as ineffective and too costly, despite studies from research groups that say otherwise.


   

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