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Commercial Trailer Rear Impact Guard Standards - Who is the Victim?

I saw an interesting news story on the television a couple weeks ago. I wish I could remember what channel it was on. I’ve searched online, and I can’t find it.

Back in the late 1970s, or around that time, the U.S. Government started requiring rear impact guards be installed under the backs of commercial semi trailers. The guards keep a vehicle from going under the truck, and redirects the impact to the front bumper or the hood of the car so the driver is less likely to get decapitated.

Now, some folks who have rear-ended commercial trucks are claiming they are victims. They say U.S. standards for rear impact guards should be as high as those used in Canada. I guess Canada’s standards are higher, and to me, that makes some sense. If you drive in the frozen tundra, I can see how you might be more likely to make the mistake of rear-ending a commercial truck.

However, IMHO, we don’t need this kind of nanny state rule here in the U.S. Frankly, if you manage to rear-end the largest, heaviest vehicles on the road, it isn’t the truck’s fault you injured yourself.

What are your thoughts? Do you think standards for rear impact guards on commercial trailers should be raised in the U.S. to the same standards as those used in Canada, or do you think drivers should get their heads out of their tailpipes, pay attention, and stop tailgating?

I vote for the latter. If you manage to rear-end a semi, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself for the damage and injuries. The only thing that would make me reconsider is if someone could convince me cars are being pushed into the semis by cars that rear-end them, and this is happening often enough that increasing standards would make the roads safer for drivers who are pushed into the back ends of trucks by careless drivers through no fault of their own.

I remember when this was a big deal, and later stories about trucks that weren’t complying with the (then) new law. The issue was potential decapitation if there wasn’t a guard or the guard collapsed, because truck trailers are higher than the federal bumper height standards.

While I do agree that people need to learn how to drive and stop crashing into the back of vehicles, in my TV career I’ve seen plenty of wrecks where some dope rear-ends someone who’s car is knocked into the back of a semi trailer. That victim does not deserve severe injuries just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That’s why my stance is “either make the bumper guards right, or lower the trailer deck height to that of normal vehicles.”

That said, I’d have to know what the standards are in each country. If US guards fold at 5mph, then that’s problematic. If, however, we’re trying to upgrade to a Canadian standard of “it’s a tank in disguise,” then it’s probably not such a big deal.

Another point on the looooong list for


Well, I’m a believer that there should be reasonable regulations, but as long as the vehicle meets those regulations, that should be the final say. So if the trailer met regulations, then they should be immune to prosecution from anyone hitting it. However, if, for example, that underride guard was clearly structurally unsound and unable to meet the standards, then some level of liability might be justified, as not all rear impacts are the fault of the person hitting the rear of the semi. I.e.:

However, we also shouldn’t go over the top on trying to protect against every last possibility.

IIHS found that these guards on semis were insufficient to stop vehicles from underriding the trailer, and that a standard closer to Canada’s was much more effective. If that standard isn’t significantly more costly (this may require an unpopular cost-benefit analysis), we should adopt it, but we shouldn’t hold people liable for vehicles that meet our regulations, unless they clearly are driving them when they are unsound - ie, significant rust at the attachment points for the guard, suggesting that it wouldn’t provide any resistance in a crash.

When a jury awarded the person who spilled a cup of hot coffee in her lap (from a McDonalds drive-up window) a million dollars, the floodgates were opened for frivolous lawsuits…Our Universities graduate 30,000 new lawyers every year…They all are looking for “work”…

That’s a bad example of a frivolous lawsuit. That McDonalds had coffee which was hotter than the maximum allowed by state regulations. They had been told many times by the state to lower the temperature, but ignored the order. They then failed to clinch the lid on properly. Had they lowered the temperature and properly secured the lid, the woman’s burns would have been much less severe if they had happened at all.

While I do think it’s stupid to put a hot cup of coffee between your legs, that does not absolve McDonalds from responsibility for willfully breaking state law.

People who rearend trucks are not necessarily tailgating. I don’t know if there are any statistics on this, but often the case is the truck is stopped and the driver cruising at speed and doesn’t see it. Fog combined with driving too fast for conditions seems to be a common cause. Falling asleep at the wheel is another.

IMHO, falling asleep behind the wheel is preventable. My routine is to first pull over, splash some cold water on my face and buy a cup of coffee. If, after that, I am still tired, I pull over and get some sleep.

There’s ALWAYS going to be frivolous lawsuits…SO WHAT.

And they started LONG before the McDonalds lawsuit.

Back in the 60’s there was a little hamburger place in the mid west call the “King of Burgers”. This place was in business LONG before McDonalds and BurgerKing even existed. Well in the 60’s Burger King started making it’s way through mid west …and didn’t like this small company using the name “King of Burgers”. So they sued this small little mom and pop store right out of existence. Sure this hamburger stand had legal grounds…but when your yearly income is less then $1 million it’s damn near IMPOSSIBLE to win…

I was going to keep mum after reading Caddyman’s incorrect assessment of the infamous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit, but now that shadowfax has posted part of the correct information, I guess that I will have to chime in with more of the actual info. Since I did a research paper on this topic for my Torts class, I am very familiar with the facts, even though I don’t recall the exact water temperature or the exact cash award at this point. (If anyone wants the actual numbers, I can dig around to find my old research paper.)

It was not a case of using water that was higher in temp than “state regulations”, but rather an issue of using water temperatures that were so high that anyone spilling that coffee on themselves would develop severe skin burns if their skin was covered by clothing. The reason for the ultra-high temps was that, by using these outrageously high water temperatures, McD’s was able to extract more flavor from less ground coffee. I.E.–a cost saving move, despite the reality that they had been successfully sued by a number of people over a period of several years for this type of injury.

In the case in question, the elderly woman was being transported by her grandson. The car was not moving when the spill occurred, and it took place because the woman opened the lid in order to add sugar or some other sweetener, and because the container was so overly full of overly hot liquid, some of it spilled on the sweatpants that she was wearing. Opening the container of coffee was a totally reasonable action on her part, because–obviously–she could not add anything to the coffee without opening the container. And, when you are riding in an older car that does not have cup holders (hers did not), where else but between your legs would someone most likely place a coffee cup while they remove the lid and add sweetener?

The burns that she received were so severe that she required multiple skin grafts on her thighs.
Initially, she only requested that McD’s pay the excess hospital costs that were not covered by her Medicare and private insurance. The requested amount was–IIRC–no more than a couple of thousand $$. When McD’s refused, she retained an attorney, and again this reasonable request for a few thousand $$ in compensation was refused. That resulted in a lawsuit that asked for punitive damages, in addition to compensation for her unreimbursed medical expenses.

When the jury saw the evidence regarding the actual temperature of the water used by McD’s, when they saw proof of numerous previous injuries of the same kind, and they heard expert medical testimony proving that water of this temperature will always cause severe skin burns when the person’s skin is covered by clothing, they not only decided in the plaintiff’s favor, but they added a HUGE punitive award that was about 20 times what her attorney had requested.

On appeal, the huge punitive award was drastically reduced, but what was not reduced was the amount of rhetoric and incorrect information that was bandied about by a couple of right-wing organizations. The net effect is that most Americans probably have a very distorted idea of the actual facts of the case, and somehow believe that McD’s was the victim.

In reality, McD’s acted in a callous manner toward their customers on an ongoing basis, and they only reduced the temperature of their coffee-brewing water after this case was adjudicated. If they had acted in a responsible manner in the first place, this case would never have gone to court. And, I say that as the holder of several hundred shares of McDonald’s stock. Yes, I like the dividends, but I also expect companies to act in a responsible manner, and McDonald’s DID NOT act responsibly for an extended period of time by using incredibly high–and dangerous–water temperatures for their coffee brewing.

It is fine to want to reduce the incidence of truly frivolous lawsuits, but this particular case was NOT friviolous, despite the Koch brothers’ funding of propaganda that distorted the actual facts of the case. And, I submit that anyone who claims that they would not file a lawsuit under the same circumstances is not being honest. You know and I know that you would file suit under the same circumstances.

Agree, that was my understanding of the Mac case.

As far as I can tell all those rear guards are just a few pieces of angle iron welded together and mounted. Doesn’t seem like much expense and still way high for normal vehicles. I’d be in favor of a better guard if the costs are not much more prohibitive.

Yep ,not much to a underride barrier,usaully a few pieces of channel iron.Nice to have them under there-if it saves someones life.But,serious driver training would save more lives.Respect trucks people,its an unequal contest,Thanks for the heads up on the McDonalds case,after learning the details,I’m glad the old lady prevailed on that case,I had a similar thing happen to me at Lowes,since they are self insured “it wasnt thier fault unfortunetly” it cost me perhaps 7K and all I was seeking was help with the medical expenses.Should have taken them to small claims court I suppose-Kevin