Trucks are essential tools for commerce in the United States, but they have the potential to be extremely dangerous. It’s important to be careful when driving behind or passing them on the highway. If a truck driver can’t see you, tragedy can strike just like it has many times before. In 2020 alone, over 4,000 people died in large truck crashes in the U.S. The last thing we want is for you to become another of these awful statistics. While there are things you can do to help keep yourself safe on the road, much of the responsibility lies in the truckers who operate these powerful vehicles.
To help prevent needless death and injury, a number of safety features have been added to trucks over the many decades they’ve been roaming America’s highways. In recent years, these have included lane departure warnings and blind spot monitoring technology. But one piece of safety equipment, the Mansfield bar, has been in use for much longer. Let’s explore what the Mansfield bar is and how effective it is at preventing tragedy.
If you or a loved one have been killed or permanently, catastrophically injured in a trucking accident, we would first like to offer our condolences. Secondly, if you would like to discuss your potential case, please contact the offices of Maples, Nix, and Diesselhorst for a free consultation.
What is a Mansfield bar?
While traveling down the highway, it is likely that you have, at some point, been behind a semi truck. Whether attempting to cut gas mileage by drifting close behind or gaining on them to make the pass, many drivers have come dangerously close to a truck’s back end.
If you are one of those drivers, you’ve probably noticed the red and white striped bar that hangs down from the trailer. It looks somewhat like a guardrail between you and the big rig’s tires. This steel barrier is known as a Mansfield bar, and it is designed to keep vehicles from going under the trailer in the event of a crash at the truck’s rear end.
The tragic origin of the Mansfield bar
The Mansfield bar was created after the death of actress Jayne Mansfield, whose tragic end came at the horrifically young age of 34 when the car she and her children were riding in slammed into the rear of a semi truck. The collision sheared the roof of the vehicle almost completely off killing Mansfield and her two adult passengers. Her three children who were in the back seat survived the accident.
Not long after Mansfield’s death in 1967, it became apparent to the auto industry that the current safety standards that were in place were not good enough. First known as underride guards, Mansfield bars were put in place on all semis under the belief that if they had been mandated before, Mansfield might still be alive today.
Mansfield bars today
The prototypical devices that would eventually become Mansfield Bars were first created as early as 1953, but their regulations have been changed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) several times over the years, including major updates in 1998 and 2022.
The NHTSA has repeatedly increased the strength requirements to help reduce the risk of injury, death and property damage. Compliance with these regulations is absolutely necessary, and truckers and trucking companies alike are responsible for ensuring they constantly meet the standards of effectiveness at all times. Now, they must be effective in collisions up to 35 miles per hour. But just because they’ve been updated and mandated doesn’t necessarily mean they’re effective.
Are Mansfield bars effective?
The invention of the Mansfield bar was hailed as a success after initial crash tests showed that it worked to prevent cars from going underneath a semi’s trailer. However, it was later discovered that while the Mansfield bar did indeed work, its success hinged largely on the angle of impact. When vehicles collided with the semi’s rear while coming straight at the bar, it was successful. However, a change to the trajectory led to a decreased success rate. In fact, when anything less than 30 percent of the vehicle’s front end hit the bar, the success rate dropped dramatically.
Even today, side Mansfield bars are not required, meaning there is no protection for drivers who collide while changing lanes or swerving to avoid an obstruction in the road. They are also not effective as bumpers. This means they don’t absorb energy the way bumpers do and don’t prevent injuries from the crash itself. Additionally, their height doesn’t protect all passenger vehicles and motorcycles. Yes, they are helpful, but they are far from a one-stop solution.
The real issue
While semi trucks may sport various safety measures such as the Mansfield bar, the danger they pose to other drivers largely rests with their operators. Driver fatigue and distracted driving are some of the leading causes of semi truck accidents. Safety additions are important, but nothing can replace personal responsibility. Having a Mansfield bar on the back of a semi doesn’t mean the driver can forget safety. An injured individual can still hold the driver or their carrier legally accountable.
MND may be able to stand with you
Making our motorways safer is an ongoing struggle, but lawsuits are a powerful part of the equation. Not only can they help seek justice for the victims of accidents, but they can also deter irresponsible and dangerous behavior for future drivers. If you or a loved one have been killed or permanently, catastrophically injured in a trucking accident, we would first like to offer our condolences. Secondly, if you believe you may have a case, please contact the office of Maples, Nix, and Diesselhorst for a free consultation.