Jayne Mansfield’s Legacy: Improved Highway Safety

If you’ve ever followed a semi truck or tractor trailer down the freeway, you may have noticed a horizontal bar beneath the rear. This steel bar isn’t for looks; it’s an underride bar and it serves a very important purpose—preventing vehicles from becoming wedged beneath these big trucks in the event of a rear-end collision. The history of these “underride guards,” also known as Mansfield bars has an unexpected connection to Hollywood.

Back in the 1960s, underride guards did not exist. So when Hollywood starlet Jayne Mansfield, her children and two other adults hit the roadway for a trip to New York in June of 1967, there was nothing to prevent the car she was riding in—a 1966 Buick Electra—from ending up beneath a slow-moving semi in its path. The three adults in the vehicle, including Mansfield, died instantly. Mansfield’s children in the backseat, including Mariska Hargitay, prime-time superstar of “Law & Order: SVU,” were not harmed.

Shortly after the heart-wrenching fatal crash, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed new standards calling for the addition of underride prevention guards on large trucks. It wasn’t until 1998, however, that the requirement called for the NHTSA was actually fully implemented. At the time, the NHTSA said that up to 300 deaths occurred each year due to underride crashes.

While the guards do a fairly good job of preventing the horrific deaths usually seen during underride events, some say that they don’t go far enough, since they are only required on the rear of the vehicle. The rear corners, say some safety experts, are left exposed, as are the sides. Side underride accidents lead to around 200 fatalities per year according to some sources. This type of accident occurs when a car crashes into the side of a tractor trailer and then slides underneath the trailer. Typically, passengers inside are decapitated or crushed when the top of the car is sheered off.

If lawmakers have their way, trucks in the very near future will be required to have both side and front underride guards to prevent these horrible accidents from happening going forward. The NHSTA has given its full support to a bill that is awaiting its fate in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s hands. Detractors are lobbying against the bill, particularly the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, which cites challenges with implementing such requirements, including technical challenged and added weight and cost for operators.

If you or a family member has been injured in a truck accident or side or rear underride accident, our truck accident lawyer can help. Give us a call to set up your free, no-obligation case consultation now.