Whatever you believe it is clear we lost an pioneer and hero in more ways than one. Joshua Brown lost his life, but others will be saved in the future due to his efforts, possibly hundreds.
I have been a truck safety advocate for more than twenty years. I lost my wife in a rear underride of a trailer and we lost a life long friend to a side underride. My friends have been crippled and lost children. Most of us just die and no one pays any attention, when big companies and big money are involved media and the public finally pay attention.
We have tried to argue for the past twenty years that big heavy vehicles must be crash compatible with the other vehicles they share the roads with. Remember a decade of arguments for pickups and SUV bumpers to line up with car bumpers. Cars were finally designed with side air bags in response and very gradually bumper heights on large vehicles were improved. Car companies have been notorious for ignoring simple fixes that can save hundreds of lives. We still have 32,000 and more needless traffic fatalities every year and this needs to change.
Big trucks and trailers have been killing people in crossover side underrides for 70 years, this is not a new or even rare occurrence. If you drive your car without a bumper you will be fined thousands of dollars and lose your license, if you kill you will be jailed. The sides of trailers are not crash compatible with cars, even at 25 mph people die in these crashes as the trailer essentially has been allowed to drive on our roadways without any bumper. It has operated in this case and others as designed. They are designed to allow the car to absorb 100% of the crash energy by contacting the weakest portions of the smaller vehicle, the windshield and any occupants heads and upper torsos. Truck mechanics have often commented after these crashes, a turn of the wrench and the trailer was good as new and back on the road. We have improved energy absorption and crash performance of cars virtually every year for 50 years, a truck and trailer from 50 years ago will be virtually identical in a crash with many trucks and trailers on the roads today. Side guards or bumpers give us and Joshua Brown a fighting chance, is that too much to ask after 50 years of this?
Large trailers crossing roadways are surprisingly very hard to perceive especially in bright light or at night. These crossover the road crashes kill a large number of people every year. This has been studied for 25 years and solutions have been hard to obtain. A few of my friends received presidential awards from then President Clinton when we lobbied for reflective tape on trucks and trailers for these and other similar crashes. It is hard to explain to people that 5 million truck drivers and most of the major car companies and trucking associations will lobby against even simple and cheap safety improvements. Truck drivers vote and company executives give large campaign donations. The Clinton Administration approved tape with public pressure but only red tape which was already on a large percentage of trucks and which was an approved color by the trucking associations. Fluorescent colors, like lime green and bright orange which we use on signs and emergency vehicles today were turned down even though they are far more visible to approaching vehicles. White trailers have similar issues, we can do better.
We get back to issues of vehicle compatibility, cars will improve and the technology will be tweaked to recognize the hazards of trucks at intersections and road crossings. Truckers do expect other drivers to slow down or brake and often do not give enough right of way. There will be trade offs for obstacles at windshield height and recognizing other roadway features. Trucks and trailers will not improve their compatibility with the technology in other vehicles without extreme public pressure. They will continue these large gaps that are invisible to cameras and radar and expect others to fix this and any other safety issues. They will not install crash compatible bumpers or side guards, they will not give us or the Joshua Browns of the world a fighting chance.
More information here as NHTSA initiates an investigation.