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How a Hollywood Tragedy Led to the Rear Underrun Protection System

The Rear Underrun Protection System (RUPS) is such a common piece of equipment on modern commercial semi-trucks that most people probably never even notice it. But the rigid metal assembly hanging from the back of every semi-trailer actually serves an important purpose.

Before the RUPS was widely adopted in the trucking industry, drivers and passengers in the front seat of cars were at high risk of horrific injuries and death in the event that their vehicle rear-ended a tractor trailer.  The most famous of these accidents was the one in which Hollywood legend Jayne Mansfield was tragically killed.

Jayne Mansfield, her children, and a couple of companions were traveling in her Buick Electra one warm summer night, headed from Mississippi to New Orleans. Suddenly, they came upon a slow-moving truck spraying mosquito fog in the right-of-way. The Buick's driver, blinded by the fog, smashed into the back of the truck at full speed, instantly killing everyone in the front seat of the car. Though Hollywood lore has it that Mansfield was decapitated, in reality her injuries were even more gruesome.

The spectacle of Mansfield's death brought national attention to a serious safety hazard. The height differential between passenger vehicles and commercial trucks means that the force of a collision is taken by the car's windshield, its weakest point. The RUPS prevents this by transferring the force into the car's bumper, which keeps it from becoming lodged under the trailer while allowing the car's airbags and other safety equipment to function as they should. This results in fewer fatalities and horrific injuries, as well as making recovery efforts easier for first responders.

Over the years, the RUPS has evolved to become safer and better-designed. The IIHS TOUGHGUARD award promotes a high standard for quality by recognizing the safest underride guards in the industry. Since its beginning in tragedy, this simple safety innovation has saved untold numbers of lives on the roads we all share.

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