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Investigator | Few survive horrific side underride crashes

It's perhaps the most horrific type of accident on our highways. And even though hundreds of people are killed every year in these collisions, the government fails to do anything about it.

"These crashes are so horrific. There's the point of decapitation," said Andy Young, a Cleveland attorney and truck expert.

In the unlikely event you survive this type of crash, Young says you're dealing with open skull fractures, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries.

They're called side underride collisions. It's when a vehicle crashes into the side of a big truck and gets trapped underneath the truck between its tires.

Young says five-star safety ratings matter little in an underride collision.

"Your airbags and your seatbelts don't help you inside the vehicle because the first point of impact is the windshield and then your head," Young said.

A test conducted at the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety earlier this year clearly shows the catastrophic impact of a side underride crash.

Josh Rojas of Parma survived an underride collision on the Lorain-Carnegie bridge. Josh spends most of his time confined to a wheelchair, barely able to walk. He suffered paralysis of one arm, blindness in one eye, a skull fracture, and a traumatic brain injury.

"I'm supposed to be dead. I'm a miracle," Josh told the Investigator Tom Meyer.

Underride crashes kill at least 200 people a year and the number is likely much greater, but police reports aren't uniform so the data is incomplete.

While guards are required on the rear of trucks, they're not mandatory on the sides like they are on most big trucks in Europe.

Some trucking companies aren't waiting for Congress to act. Thomas Transport in Macedonia recently installed a side guard on one of its 18-wheelers. It's called Angel Wing and its made by AirFlow Deflector.

The guard consists of steel bars designed to stop a car from sliding underneath a big truck.

"It will make a difference between life and death," said company CEO Robert Martineaux.

The trucking industry, however, opposes side guards arguing they're not cost-effective. They say they can weigh a truck down.

"They can save a lot of lives," said Joan Claybrook, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Administration. Claybrook says money speaks volumes. The transportation industry gave more than $9 million in campaign contributions to members of a U.S. Senate Transportation committee this past election cycle, according to opensecrets.org.

The committee's chairman, Senator John Thune says the committee is only interested in making highways safer and if side guards contribute to that, then the committee will consider them.

But the National Transportation Safety Board, a government advisory group, recommended side guards after finding they reduce the number of injuries and fatalities.

Two mothers fighting for change say Congress has been slow to act. Lois Durso and Marianne Karth, who both lost children to underride crashes, are leading a nationwide effort to make side guards mandatory on large trucks.

The safety advocates have established a website for anyone who wants to know what they can do to help in the effort.

Josh Rojas says the government is missing the boat.

"The government didn't go through what I went through," said Josh.

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