Lucky Corvette driver survives trailer crash that experts call too common

A fortunate Chevy Corvette Z06 driver in California last week came away from a horrifying crash with only a few scrapes and a story he'll never forget after smashing into the rear of a semi trailer — exactly the kind of crash that a new report says results in death too often, due to lax standards for the trailer guards that are supposed to protect drivers.

This accident, caught by the Los Angeles Fire Department on Interstate 405, wasn't fatal thanks to the Corvette driver ducking just as his car rammed into the rear of the moving van. As the pictures from the department's Flickr page show, the Vette was destroyed by the impact, as the car dove under the trailer nearly into its rear axle. In the photo above, you can see the trailer guard jutting from the wreckage of the Corvette, which it sliced like a mandoline.

Those underride guards are mandated by the United States and Canada on all semitrailers to help prevent such accidents, and according to new research from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, they usually do a better job of stopping cars. Such crashes claimed 280 lives in the United States in 2011, the most recent data available, and by the IIHS' reckoning, most were due to cars sliding under trailers.

But the IIHS says those guards perform far worse when a vehicle strikes them off-center. To demonstrate, it staged several crash tests using parked trailers from eight manufacturers and 2010 Chevy Malibus ramming them at 35 mph. All passed the full-on tests, and seven of eight successfully handled crashes where the car hit just one half of the trailer.

When the IIHS toughened the test further so that the car struck only 30 percent of the trailers' width, all but one allowed the Malibus to plow underneath, with damage that would have been catastrophic to people in real-world accidents. The one trailer that passed the test used mounts for its underride guards that were closer to the trailer's edge, providing a stronger brace. According to the IIHS, the trailer itself also suffered the least damage of any in that test, requiring only a new guard.

The institute has asked U.S. auto safety regulators to toughen standards, and trailer manufacturers have begun changing their designs in response to the IIHS campaign. But those changes will take years to filter into the fleet of semi trailers on the road; until then, it's best to avoid tailgating, and hope if you too have an accident, there's time to duck.

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