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Why are Underride Crashes so Common in New Mexico…and So Dangerous?

truck in an accident

New Mexico is notorious for truck accidents, and underrides often cause the most devastating damages of all. It’s nearly impossible for drivers to avoid being in the path of a semi truck when it veers into their lane or stops suddenly — which is why it’s rarely a victim’s fault when their vehicle slides under the back or side of a tractor-trailer. 

If you or a family member has been injured in an underride accident, seeking guidance from a truck accident lawyer can ensure you get the compensation you deserve.   

What Causes an Underride Crash?

When a smaller vehicle ends up underneath a larger, taller vehicle during a collision, it’s considered an underride accident. Underrides often happen with semi trucks for the following reasons: 

  • Poor visibility. Big trucks have several blindspots where the driver can not see smaller vehicles on either side of them. The driver might change lanes, merge onto a highway, or back up into—and over—a smaller car without realizing it’s even there.
  • Wide turns. When turning, truck drivers maneuvering through intersections or around corners can veer outside of their designated lane. It’s easy for a car that does not realize this is happening to drive under the side of the truck as it turns.
  • Faulty equipment. Faulty brakes on a smaller vehicle can prevent it from stopping in time before riding under the truck. Or, broken tail lights on the truck can prevent a car from knowing the truck is slowing down or stopping — causing it to collide with the back of the truck.
  • Driver impairment or negligent driving. Collisions can happen if the driver of either vehicle is distracted, fatigued, or impaired in some way. Likewise, if either driver is speeding, following too closely, or carelessly changing lanes, it can cause a crash. 

Why Do Underrides Happen So Often in New Mexico?

Specifically in our state, geography and weather play huge roles in causing underride crashes, with the following factors coming into play:

  • Steep grades. In mountainous areas, it’s very difficult for tractor-trailers to slow down as they descend steep hills. With cargo, trucks weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Even empty, they are at least 20,000 pounds. If a trucker tries to make it over to a runaway ramp without looking for smaller vehicles in adjacent lanes, an underride crash can happen. 
  • Long stretches. When truck drivers are on the road for hours along I-25 and I-40, it can be difficult to stay awake or concentrate on the road. Nodding off can quickly cause a semi to drift into another lane and swallow up a smaller car.
  • Unpredictable weather. In winter, ice can make New Mexico roads slippery, making it difficult for smaller cars to stop before crashing into the rear of a semi. Snowstorms reduce visibility. Thunderstorms in spring and summer are always possible. Any of that can contribute to terrible accidents.  

The Catastrophic Dangers of an Underride Crash

When a car gets trapped under an 18-wheeler, it can break the windshield, shear off the roof, and crush the vehicle. Anyone inside the car is susceptible to significant injuries such as damage to internal organs, amputation of limbs, paralyzation, and traumatic brain injuries. In the worst underride accidents, victims don’t survive. 

There are Regulations to Prevent Underride Accidents, But Not Enough is Being Done to Stop Them

Similar to the way bumpers protect standard vehicles in accidents, strong steel guards mounted to the back and sides of trucks can keep vehicles from sliding under them. After decades of efforts to mandate that trucking companies install these guards, legislators introduced The Stop Underrides Act to Congress in 2021. According to the bill, all commercial motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or more and for which the bottom of the carriage is higher than 22 inches off the ground would be required to install front, side, and rear underride guards. 

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2022 requires trucks to have rear guards. However, there are still no requirements for front or side guards. Trucking companies say the guards are too expensive, and many continue to claim they are not a necessity. 

Riley Hein’s parents beg to differ. The teen from Tijeras died in November 2015 when his Honda Civic was struck by an 18-wheeler that veered over the centerline of Interstate 40 in Tijeras Canyon east of Albuquerque as he drove to band practice at Manzano High School. His car was trapped under the truck’s front and back wheels and was dragged for half a mile along a concrete barrier, causing it to burst into flames. 

After Riley’s death, his parents sued Utility Trailer Manufacturing Inc. for not having underride guards on their trucks. They received nearly $19 million in compensation, but are still fighting to get a law passed that would protect other drivers from going through what their son did. Utility Trailer Manufacturing now sells a side guard as an “option,” but it’s still not enough. 

truck after an accident
Image by Vinh Dao by Canva.com

Why It’s Important to Find a Knowledgeable Truck Accident Lawyer 

No amount of money can undo the damage and heartache that an underride accident causes. But hiring a lawyer who is an expert at discovering who is responsible for the accident can help pay victims for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering incurred as a result of the crash. 

While it’s true that all drivers have a duty of care to pay attention to other vehicles around them – including semis – truck drivers need to take even more precautions because of their vehicle’s size. They must be cautious about blind spots and how long it takes them to stop. The company that employs the trucker must ensure their drivers are properly trained, undergo drug testing, and don’t drive too many hours. And the vehicles themselves must meet certain maintenance standards. 

When we work with underride truck accident victims and their families, we investigate to determine which party, or parties, failed to do their part to prevent the accident. Negligent parties could include:

  • The truck manufacturer. Did the truck have all the equipment it needed to prevent the underride? Even not having reflectors at night could cause a car to run into a stopped truck.
  • The trucking company. Did the driver’s employer demand that he drive too many hours, leading to fatigue or sleepiness that led to the accident? 
  • The driver. Was the driver intoxicated or distracted while driving?
  • The government. Did they fail to maintain highways or roads sufficiently to prevent the accident? 


In underride accidents, trucking companies are often quick to offer a settlement when they know they or their driver is at fault. It’s extremely important not to accept this offer without having an attorney on your side to represent your case. 

Consulting with truck accident attorneys at Kane Personal Injury will ensure you get the maximum settlement amount you deserve. Contact us for a free consultation today.