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The tragic story of the Mansfield Bar

Have you ever noticed the horizontal bar underneath the rear of semi-trucks on I-75? The steel bar hanging underneath a semi-truck trailer is designed to stop a vehicle from wedging underneath in a crash. There’s a story about this underride bar and why it’s often referred to as the Mansfield Bar.

Jayne Mansfield was a 1950’s blonde bombshell that took Hollywood by storm. But before she had a chance to make it big, she was killed in a car accident. It was June of 1967, and Mansfield was traveling with a male friend, her driver and three of her children near Biloxi when a dense fog from a mosquito spray drifted over the highway. Nobody in her 1966 Buick Electra ever saw the slow-moving semi in front of them. Her car rammed into the tractor-trailer and went completely under the trailer, instantly killing all the adults in the front seat, including Mansfield. Miraculously, the children all survived.

New safety standards enacted

Soon after the horrific accident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed new standards for underride prevention guards. This requirement wasn’t fully implemented until 1998 when rear guards—known as Mansfield Bars—were mandated. Back then, the NHTSA estimated between 200 and 300 fatalities from underride accidents each year in the U.S. The guards are required on the back of all trucks, but not the sides, however.

Side underride crashes kill 200 a year

It has been called one of the most devastating vehicle accidents: a car slams into the side of a tractor-trailer and slides underneath. The top of the car can be completely sheared off and all the vehicle’s safety features will not protect the front seat occupants—who are often decapitated. In June of 2016, a self-driving Tesla made the news when it crashed into a tractor-trailer. The Tesla went partially under the side of the trailer, and the bottom of the rig struck the car’s windshield killing the vehicle’s occupant.

A new bill from Congress

Now, members of Congress have proposed a bill requiring side and front guards for trucks to prevent cars from sliding underneath. The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended these guards after concluding they would reduce deaths and injuries on U.S. highways. Europe uses the side guards on their trucks.

Pushback from the trucking industry

The industry’s lobbying arm, the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, has opposed the side guards for years. They cite the added cost, added weight and technical challenges.

Next steps

The bill will go to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee for consideration. The NHTSA also has the power to issue side guard regulations, or Congress can order the department to act—based on the committee’s recommendation.

When you or your family are injured in a car or truck accident through the negligence or carelessness of others, an experienced personal injury attorney can help. Your attorney can pursue compensation to help you cover medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, allowing you to move on with your life again.

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