Hundreds of people die every year when cars slide beneath trucks. In the face of opposition from the industry, the federal government has failed for decades to take simple steps to limit the danger.

“America’s Dangerous Trucks” is part of a collaborative investigation from FRONTLINE and ProPublica. The documentary premieres June 13, 2023, at 10 p.m. EDT on PBS stations (check local listings) and will be available to stream in the PBS Video App and on FRONTLINE’s website starting at 7 p.m. EDT.

Read Part I: How Regulators Failed to Act to Prevent Underride Crashes

An average of about 5,000 people a year are killed in crashes involving large trucks, a death toll that has soared by almost 50% since 2011, according to the most recent federal data. Tens of thousands more have been injured.

“America’s Dangerous Trucks,” a joint investigation from FRONTLINE and ProPublica, examines one particularly gruesome kind of truck accident — underride crashes — and why they keep happening. 

Underride crashes occur when a car slides beneath the trailer of a big truck. Trucks can also crush pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists. Hundreds of people die in such accidents every year.

There is a simple solution for reducing these deaths and injuries: build barriers that hang from the sides of the trucks to help prevent vehicles and people from slipping underneath.

Drawing on thousands of court records, government documents and interviews with survivors and industry insiders, the FRONTLINE and ProPublica investigation will show why regulatory agencies and the trucking industry have long refused to mandate the safety devices — and why the struggle continues today.

The news organizations will reveal explosive emails detailing how trucking industry officials pressured Department of Transportation regulators to alter a report that recommended a nationwide mandate for guards specifically designed to protect pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. The guards are already used around the world and in several U.S. cities.

“The industry holds a lot of sway on what rules get made, and they all hate the idea of additional rules,” said Martin Walker, the recently retired chief of research at the agency that regulates trucking. “Unfortunately, the public doesn’t have much impact on what DOT does. But there’s a very close relationship with industry, there’s no doubt about that.”

Representatives of both the trucking industry and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say that their top priority is safety, with NHTSA also saying it has taken steps to reduce underride crashes. Both say that the cost of the guards outweighs any potential live-saving benefits. “America’s Dangerous Trucks” is a powerful examination of where the fight over underride safety measures stands and why it matters.

“America’s Dangerous Trucks” airs Tuesday, June 13, 2023, at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m CT on PBS stations (check local listings) and on FRONTLINE’s YouTube channel. It will also be available to stream starting at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT the night of its release at and in the PBS Video App.

The ProPublica and FRONTLINE stories will publish on Tuesday and June 22 on the news organizations’ websites.

Update, Tuesday, June 22: This story was updated to note a new publication date for the second installment of the series.