Metal bars on back of trucks not keeping drivers safe

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BIG BEND (WITI) -- The bars on the backs of semi-truck trailers are supposed to keep cars from sliding underneath a truck during an accident. But a FOX6 investigation reveals they often aren't strong enough to keep drivers safe.

It's a lesson Brenda Jones learned the hard way. Twenty-three years ago she was nine months pregnant with a little boy. Just days before she went into labor, the father of her child died in a car accident.

His car ran into the back of a truck. brenda 1

"I raised him as a single parent for half of his life and every day kept saying 'just let me get him, let me be okay and keep me here until he's grown,'" she remembers.

After high school, that little boy, named Dustin, enrolled at Purdue University. He played on the varsity bowling team. This spring he came home from college to visit.

"I never thought he'd be gone, too," Jones said.

On the way to see his grandparents, Dustin was killed in a motorcycle accident on his mother's birthday.

Two months passed -- July, 2013 -- Brenda says she had just stopped crying when the phone rang.

"It was someone from my husband's work, asking if my husband was here. They've been trying to reach him. They couldn't reach him," she said.

She remembers hearing about a crash on the news -- and she says, she just knew.

"I just, I ran to the scene," recalled Jones.

Her husband, 37-year-old Ben Jones was trapped underneath a semi-truck on I-894.

brenda 4Cameras caught the accident on tape. The semi he hit was moving at a snail's pace. Other drivers were able to swerve around the truck. Jones wasn't as lucky.

His pickup truck slid underneath the trailer and he was trapped, unconscious. Police pronounced him dead at the scene.

"We just couldn't keep him long enough to survive the crash," said Greenfield Firefighter Jeff Hohensee.

Witnesses said a special safety bar on the back of the trailer had failed, which is how Jones' pickup truck got lodged underneath.

"I asked and was told that the bar had broken off," Jones remembers.

That bar is called an underride guard, and while chances are you probably haven't noticed them before, most semi-trailers are required to have them. They hang down off the backs of trailers and they're supposed to keep cars from sliding underneath during an accident.

But time and time again research shows they don't work, and hundreds of drivers each year die violent, preventable deaths.

"They couldn't get to him because he ended up underneath the truck," said Jones.

No one routinely keeps track of how many people die this way. But in 2011, the last time anyone counted, 260 people died in rear-end underride crashes. Two were from Wisconsin.

brenda 3Wisconsin State Patrol  inspectors say there's really no way for drivers on the road to tell if a bumper is safe. Most are required to be no more than 22 inches above the ground and they have to have reflectors.

State Patrol Inspector Mark Barlar says rust is only a concern if it goes through. He checks trucks for cracks and missing bolts -- but says he rarely has to ticket drivers for faulty bumpers.

He admits even the closest inspection might not be enough to keep drivers safe. That's because there's no way to test an underride guard to see if it really will hold up in a bad accident.

"There is no way for me to test structural integrity of it. If you could move it by hand that would be a bad thing," Barlar said.

Even if the bumper meets all the legal requirements -- you could still be in danger.brenda 2

Matt Brumbelow is a senior research engineer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This spring he and his colleagues released a study. It concluded the current safety standards are "not good enough."

"Roughly 3-5 years ago when we started seeing some of the crash data that made us wonder if something else could be done," Brumbelow said.

According to his findings, federal laws regulating semi-truck bumpers aren't cutting it. They conducted crash tests as speeds as low as 35 miles per hour. The results were deadly.

"The guard just breaks off the trailer," Brumbelow said.

That's why Canadian underride guards are required to be twice as strong as the ones traveling on U.S. highways.

Since 2011 the IIHS has been petitioning the federal government to make the same change in the United States -- to make drivers on our roads safer. But so far nothing has been done. Read the petition here: petition_2011-02-28

Some trailer manufacturers are now taking things into their own hands. They are voluntarily making bumpers stronger.

"You want to put the safest vehicles you can on the road," said Mark Matthiae, president of a company called Crystal Finishing headquartered in Wausau, WI.

After seeing videos of the deadly crash tests, his company decided it wanted their trucks to have the strongest bumpers on the market, so they partnered with a Canadian company called Manac. In crash tests, Manac's guards did their job. They kept drivers from sliding underneath the truck.

"I just don't understand why the manufacturers wouldn't want to make that change. It looks to me like very little cost difference. In fact, it could almost be a cost savings if it's designed properly," Matthiae said.

It makes sense to Brenda Jones, too.IMG_0070

"If it means that maybe somebody can help someone else -- it's too late for us," she said - a single mother for the second time.

"You hear this little voice standing next to you say 'I can't go to the father-daughter dance anymore' or 'a little boy is having a meltdown because his dad had promised him fireworks on his first day of kindergarten, and dad's not here,'" she laments.

"He should be here. There's no reason. They both should be here," Jones said.


    • Dewey Hanson

      Brady, your a dumbass. Those people who have passed were my brother,nephew and his step father. I pray you never have to deal with the pain that Brenda and the entire familys have had to. And I agree, get all the facts before you open your mouth on such a tragedy.

    • peggy junemann

      I directly spoke to the insurance adjuster and he informed me the driver was going 5 miles an hour and having mechanical problems. and if you notice in the video Ben had nowhere to go and if he was going 60 miles an hour like everybody else on the road he would not had a problem going around. not following someone 5 miles an hour.

    • tricia rickard-becker

      I drive a truck for a living and although I feel bad for people that died in semi truck related accidents many times the fault is on the car drivers. * approximately 75% of accidents involving a semi truck are the fault of a car driver. Considering a professional driver (in particually an over the road driver, but also those who drive a bus, ups delivery van, box truck, dump truck, etc.) generally drives in 6 weeks what a car driver does in a year, the 25% isnt even completely accurate.

      In the unfortunate story in this article, the only feasible reason for a rear undercarriage incident is tailgating.

      I would like to think the reason car drivers behave dangerously around semi trucks is out of pure ignorance. And I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, just the fact that they don’t know any better. Perhaps if more people were educated on the true dangers, these incidents would decrease.

  • Alissa

    Brady, you didn’t even know the whole story so don’t be rude!!!! Give Brenda a break for real!!! Ben was VERY ILL and decided to turn around to go home and on his way to home he must have fallen asleep accidently due to be VERY SICK. You know how it feels when you have the worst cold, flu, or whatever and it makes you SUPER TIRED and that’s what happened to him! YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO BE NICE AND KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT UNTIL YOU HAVE THE WHOLE STORY

  • nutsfortreasure

    They are there to keep idiots from running under us while we stop and they don’t :) they are not supposed to be SOFT. Hang up the phones and pay attention, yes you are driving not talking from your chair at home!

  • Kathy Hauglie


  • Lisa Lunde

    I cannot imagine how this poor woman deals with so much loss. How absolutely heartbreaking to read. Prayers that she stays strong for her other children. So tragic!

  • Amanda

    I passed this accident just after it happened! I am so, so sorry Brenda. I say a little prayer for your family every time I go past that spot on the freeway! You now have 3 angels watching over you!

  • Jim

    I am sorry for Brenda’s loss and it is all too often a tragedy. The “ICC BARS” on the semi trailers are supposed to help keep another vehicle from going up under the trailer. The largest problem here that needs addressed is called distracted driving. Like the statement above about the driver being fatigued due to illness, that driver has the responsibility to park the vehicle and not drive it. Period!! All too often collisions with semi trucks is often blamed on the semi driver or the company or the manufacturer as in this case but no emphasis is placed of the actions of the average citizen who drives a car. People need to pay more attention to their driving and less attention to their cell phones, gps units, stereo systems, portable dvd players, and other items that takes their attention from operating that vehicle. I as a retired Truck Driver have seen things like this happening on a daily basis. If I was very ill and driving my semi, I would have found a safe place to pull that semi off the road, park it and call my dispatcher. I WANT NO PART OF BEING THE CAUSE OF AN ACCIDENT BECAUSE I WAS SICK AND COULDN’T OPERATE A VEHICLE SAFELY!! Now, I see there is no mention about the driver of that semi. How did the semi driver feel after the collision knowing the vehicle he was driving had a deceased person in a vehicle under his trailer? Even though he didn’t cause the collision, I bet he felt very sad. Many car manufacturers are now equiping new cars with collision avoidance systems to help the problem, but it still comes down to the average car driver to start paying attention to their driving, I am sorry and it may sound crude but, this driver could have saved his own life by just simply pulling over and calling someone to take him back home instead of trying to drive home very ill. In fact, if he was that sick, he should have pulled over and called 911 for an ambulance.

    • Aaron jones

      I do not know where this ladie is getting her so calles information but there is no proof he fell asleep or was driving sick.

    • peggy junemann

      Just so you know the semi driver was having mechanical problems and was going 5 mph. He should not have been on the road during morning rush hour or any time!

  • Aaron jones

    Apparently people like to jump to there own conclusions with out all the faxs. I feel ashamed to live in a world where rud and unfeeling people could feel the need to create more sorrow with miss information and cold hardness comments.
    Rest In peace Ben

    • Dana Johnson

      My goodness people. Learn to spell in English!!! A fax is a message, FACTS are what you need to have before opening your pie hole, and I don’t have a clue what a ‘faxs’ is!

      • peggy junemann

        Don’t rip on people for their grammar. In the world of texting shortened words or whatever isn’t the issue.

      • rob coisman

        Your an idiot. Who cares about grammer. Only you so shut the hell up or how about we meet in person and i dare you to correct my grammer to my face. Rest in peace Ben. I wish your family the best.

    • Dennis

      I think that’s all the information anyone needs. The rest are just talking heads. Sorry for your loss.

  • mark

    I watched the video twice and noticed two things. First, the truck was going very slow compared to surrounding traffic and should have had his hazard lights flashing while he was finding a safe place to pull to the shoulder or next ramp. Next thing was the suv never seemed to attempt to stop as there was no brake lights or nose diving as you would usually see in a panic stop. I realize its easy to villanize the truck and say if it wasn’t on the road he wounldn’t have hit it but that doesn’t change the fact that for whatever reason the guy in the suv wasnt paying close enough attention to stop. I feel horrible for that woman who has lost so much and her family . That being said ,what if the vehicle with mechanical problems had been a small car with two kids in the back seat? How different would this story be? Maybe something about how everybody could be safer, pay more attention, and be much less agressive on the roads. Instead of trying to bubble wrap the world so nobody can ever get hurt we should take responsibility for our own safety.

  • Be

    The semi driver was a felon from Florida. He drove 20 mph for ten minutes and never pulled off the highway. Ben did not cause this accident. Why not just make the bumpers stronger and stop the blame?

  • Trucker

    I have avoided many cars that were stopped on the interstate in a lane. How did I avoid them? I was paying attention. This is a terrible story that blames trucking companies for the bumpers on their trucks. This is typical of our world today, blame someone else for their short comings. Sorry for your loss but is was not the ICC bumpers fault.

    • Anonymous

      So what about when a semi pulls out in front of someone. Do they deserve to get hurt? This happened to me just yesterday and thankfully the bar held and my only injury was two broken metatarsals

  • Stupid Sexy Flanders

    Was the semi driver issued a ticket? I see vehicles moving slow all the time on the freeway during rush hour. So i can do 60mph into the back of a vehicle and it will be their fault? Sweetness. But this is unfortunate that this happened. But how can you blame the trailer? Also guns kill people, not the person pulling the the trigger, right?

  • Anonymous

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