After This Famous 1967 Crash, Little Has Changed

ProPublica reports that the US has failed to stop underride crashes involving semis
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 13, 2023 11:15 AM CDT
After This Famous 1967 Crash, Little Has Changed
This June 29, 1967, file photo shows the mangled car that actor Jayne Mansfield died in after colliding with a truck on Route 90 outside of New Orleans. More than 50 years later, critics say proper safety precautions still haven't been taken in regard to trucks.   (AP Photo/File)

It's a sad piece of Hollywood lore: In 1967, the actress Jayne Mansfield was killed when the car she was in slid under a semi on the highway. Mansfield’s three young children survived, including Mariska Hargitay, now of the Law & Order TV franchise. The accident is mentioned as part of a joint investigation by ProPublica and Frontline into road safety—specifically truck safety. The troubling assessment of the story is that not much has changed since that 1967 accident to prevent similar fatalities in what are known as "underride crashes" involving tractor-trailers. Relatively simple and inexpensive guards on trucks could prevent cars from sliding beneath the larger vehicles in crashes, but federal officials have balked year after year at mandating them amid pushback from the industry, according to the story.

"The records reveal a remarkable and disturbing hidden history, a case study of government inaction in the face of an obvious threat to public well-being," it reads. For example, in the 1980s, truck industry leaders successfully lobbied against a rule requiring stronger rear underride guards that would have cost an estimated $127 apiece. Part of the problem is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been bad at tracking such deaths historically, though it's trying to rectify that; without such stats, new regulations are harder to impose. The agency's latest data points to more than 400 underride deaths in 2021, though the story's analysis suggests that figure is a severe undercount. In the meantime, a Senate bill to require side guards has failed to make it out of committee three times since 2017. Read the full story. (Or check out other Longform stories.)

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